By Matt Reese
Have the United Egg Producers cracked under political pressure? It seems as if these chicken producers have crossed the political road to get to the other side and the potential consequences are no joke. In an unlikely pairing, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has teamed up with the United Egg Producers to make the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 a top legislative priority in Congress this year.
H.R. 3798 has been introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Elton Gallegly, R-Calif, and Sam Farr, D-Calif. The bill will require egg producers to essentially double the space allotted per hen and make other changes during a tiered phase-in period that allows farmers time to make the investments in better housing, with the assurance that all will face the same requirements by the end of the phase-in period.
“Eggs are a national commodity, and egg producers should have a level playing field – not have different, costly rules in all 50 states,” said Gene Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers. “That’s where we are heading if we don’t pass this federal legislation. We need this legislation for our customers and consumers and the survival of egg farmers.”
The Ohio Poultry Association agrees and is also strongly supporting the legislation.
“Ohio egg farmers and processors strongly support federal legislation introduced on January 23, 2012 to amend the Egg Product Inspection Act. HR 3798 will provide for uniform standards for laying hen housing and care – a measure that is needed and will benefit our state’s egg industry. The Egg Products Inspection Act was chosen as the vehicle to carry these changes because the issues addressed in the legislation are specific to our industry; that is why this Act is the appropriate place to implement them,” according to a statement from Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association. “While all egg farmers are committed to excellent care of their flocks, rules for how egg-laying hens are housed vary greatly across states. Individual states have enacted housing restrictions via legislative process or ballot initiatives. Challenges in other states are currently underway. More of these changes will continue to occur without a national solution.
“Because the egg market is national in scope, this patchwork approach to the regulation of hen housing means there is no standardization across states. Ohio is the second-largest egg producing state in the nation. Our farms market eggs into virtually every state, and without a uniform standard, farmers could be forced to have a separate barn for each state or region that receives Ohio eggs. HR 3798 will provide the framework to maintain the viability of Ohio’s egg farms and to ensure our state’s farmers can continue to produce safe, affordable, high-quality eggs.”
Specifically, H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, would:
• require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space over the next 15 to 18 years;
• require that, after a phase-in period, all egg-laying hens be provided with environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas, that will allow hens to express natural behaviors;
• require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs — “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” and “eggs from free-range hens”;
• prohibit feed- or water-withdrawal molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program;
• require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of egg-laying hens;
• prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses; and
• prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.
In what may seem like an almost a comical pairing of industry and the extremist HSUS agenda, much of the rest of agriculture is not laughing. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said it would set a “dangerous precedent” for allowing the federal government to regulate on-farm production practices, including animal housing.
According to NPPC, the legislation seeks to codify an agreement the Humane Society of the United States came to with the egg industry. HSUS agreed to forego trying to pass state ballot initiatives that would dictate egg production practices and to stop 10 years of litigation against and undercover investigations of the egg industry in exchange for egg producers’ support of the measures.
“This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals,” said NPPC President Doug Wolf, a hog farmer from Lancaster, Wis. “This one-size-fits-all farm takeover bill is government intrusion on family farms at its worst and is unnecessary. If enacted, it would open Pandora’s Box for special interest groups to pursue similar federal laws on pig farmers, dairy farmers and other family farming operations.”
NPPC says the legislation disregards science and would take away producers’ freedom to operate in ways that are best for their animals. The legislation would also add difficulty for producers to respond to consumer demands, raise retail food prices and take away consumer choice, devastate small and niche producers and, at a time of constrained budgets for agriculture, redirect valuable resources from enhancing food safety and maintaining the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture to regulating on-farm production practices for reasons other than public and animal health.
Other organizations raising serious concerns about the bill include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation and the National Milk Producers Federation.