The United Egg Producers has joined with The Humane Society of the United States to announce an unprecedented agreement to work together toward the enactment of comprehensive new federal legislation for all 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production. The proposed standards advocated by UEP and HSUS, if enacted, would be the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms.
The proposed legislation would:
• Require conventional cages (currently used by more than 90% of the egg industry) to be replaced, through an ample phase-in period, with new, enriched housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they’re currently allotted. Egg producers will invest an additional $4 billion over the next 15 years to implement the change;
• Require that all egg-laying hens be provided, through the new enriched housing system, with environments that will allow hens to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas;
• Mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “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-withholding molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program adhered to by a majority of egg farmers;
• Require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia for egg laying hens;
• Prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses;
• Prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.
The two groups will jointly ask Congress for federal legislation which would require egg producers to increase space per bird in a tiered phase in, with the amount of space birds are given increasing, in intervals, over the next 15 to 18 years. Currently, the majority of birds are each provided 67 square inches of space, with roughly 50 million receiving 48 square inches. The proposed phase-in would culminate with hens nationwide being provided a minimum of 124 to 144 square inches of space, along with the other improvements noted.
“America’s egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers,” said Bob Krouse, chairman of UEP and an Indiana egg farmer. “We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers.”
“Passing this bill would be an historic improvement for hundreds of millions of animals per year,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “It is always our greatest hope to find common ground and to forge solutions, even with traditional adversaries. We are excited about a new and better pathway forward, and hope the Congress seizes the opportunity to embrace this sort of collaboration and mutual understanding. We extend our thanks to the producers within the industry for agreeing to make the needed investments to upgrade their housing and to improve animal welfare in a meaningful way.”
If passed by Congress, the legislation would supersede state laws including those that have been passed in Arizona, California, Michigan and Ohio.
“We have been aware that discussions were occurring about a national solution on how egg-laying hens are housed, but we have only just begun to review the language proposed in this national agreement,” said Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association. “Our intention first is to review it with our members to ensure it is the right approach for Ohio’s egg farmers and to determine its potential impact on the farmers that we represent.”
Chakeres also pointed out that Ohio is a leader in farm animal care due to the creation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
“Through the Board’s work, this summer Ohio will be the first state in the nation to establish comprehensive standards for the care of egg-laying hens,” Chakeres said. “Additionally, Ohio has demonstrated its leadership in finding common ground with the animal rights community. Ohio’s landmark 2010 agreement between the farm community and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) allows all of us to focus on our shared commitment to ensuring excellent care of Ohio’s farm animals. That commitment remains firm even as discussion of a national agreement continues.”
This agreement to pass comprehensive federal legislation for standards of egg production puts a hold on planned ballot measures related to egg-laying hens in both Washington and Oregon.
The National Pork Producers Council expressed concerns about these kinds of broad legislative efforts.
“Pre-empting state laws on egg production systems would set a dangerous precedent for allowing the federal government to dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals. It would inject the federal government into the marketplace with no measureable benefit to public or animal health and welfare,” said Doug Wolf, NPPC president. “NPPC is gravely concerned that such a one-size-fits-all approach will take away producers’ freedom to operate in a way that’s best for their animals, make it difficult to respond to consumer demands, raise retail meat prices and take away consumer choice, devastate 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 health and welfare.”