During a briefing hosted by Congressmen Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), congressional staff learned about multiple voluntary, producer-led animal care programs and about the concerns farmers and ranchers have with legislation introduced in the House that would codify an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to seek federally mandated production practices for the egg industry.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President J.D. Alexander joined Amon Baer, an egg farmer from Minnesota; Betsy Flores, director of regulatory affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation; and Bill Luckey, a hog producer from Nebraska on a panel to explain how they care for their livestock and poultry. Each speaker raised serious concerns that H.R. 3798’s one-size-fits all approach to animal agriculture won’t work.
“No two farms or ranches are the same. What works for my neighbor may not work for me because all farmers and ranchers have to adapt to meet the needs of their animals, to comply with regulations and, ultimately, to satisfy consumer demand,” Alexander said. “My biggest concern with H.R. 3798 is that outside groups with no knowledge of the industry will be dictating my livelihood and potentially compromising the welfare of my livestock. This legislation creates a slippery slope. Today, it’s egg farmers but tomorrow it could be any other segment of animal agriculture and we’re not going to let that happen.”
Alexander said the groups are not alone in their opposition to mandated, prescriptive production practices. He said the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) has acknowledged mandated animal production practices, such as those proposed H.R. 3798, are not in the best interest of promoting true animal welfare because they cannot easily be adapted or updated for different farming models. A far better approach, according to Alexander, is voluntary, producer-led programs like the beef industry’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.
“BQA works and has been successful because it was created by beef producers working with veterinarians and other animal health and well-being experts to develop guidelines based on science. Unlike strict legislative mandates that would require an act of Congress to update, BQA standards are updated regularly to reflect the latest science,” Alexander said. “No one cares more about the health and well-being of animals than the men and women who work each day raising them. Together, we will work to stop this ill-conceived attempt to take animal care decisions out of the hands of farmers and ranchers and veterinarians.”
Congressman Smith said science must be the driving force behind public policy decisions. He said farmers and ranchers are dedicated to caring for the health and well-being of their animals.
“Ensuring public policy is driven by sound science is critical to the continued success of agriculture, and in turn, the long term safety and security of our nation’s food supply. The landscape of American agriculture continues to evolve, but the concern and care farmers and ranchers show their livestock remains unchanged,” Rep. Smith said. “Improved housing, updated handling practices and modernized health and nutrition products are the result of generations of investment and research into raising high quality animals. Every day, our producers demonstrate their dedication to providing the highest quality, safest and most affordable products in the world.”
The briefing was hosted a coalition of agricultural organizations working to stop H.R. 3798. The coalition includes NCBA; the Egg Farmers of America; the National Pork Producers Council; the National Milk Producers Federation; the American Sheep Industry; and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
While there are plenty of critics, the bulk of the nation’s egg industry strongly supports the measure.
“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 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.”