WOOSTER, Ohio — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation May 24 designed to increase the cage space given to egg-laying hens.
The bill, Senate Bill 3239, is being called the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, and mirrors a bill introduced in January by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation would essentially double the required space given per hen and require hens to be provided the ability to exhibit natural behaviors through an enriched housing system that would include bird perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas.
Both bills follow an agreement reached with the animal rights organization Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers in July.
“This legislation is a compromise between HSUS and UEP, with both organizations stretching themselves in order to find a solution that’s good for animal welfare, for the industry, and for the nation as a whole,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, in a released statement. “There’s no reason for Congress to do anything but enthusiastically embrace this sort of problem-solving by the primary stakeholders.”
Greg Gregory, United Egg Producers president, said the compromise is a way to provide uniformity in the egg industry. Currently, states are setting their own animal welfare and care standards, which could result in different or competing standards over time.
“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” Gregory said in a statement. “Our industry is being endangered by the growing patchwork of differing and contradictory state laws and ballot initiatives that are impeding the free flow of interstate commerce in eggs.”
But the legislation is still a dividing point for other farm organizations and even some other animal rights organizations, who say a federal egg laying standard would set a dangerous precedent for other species and livestock farmers.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman in January, said the House bill would ban proven science-based egg production methods.
“This bill would result in mandated animal care standards based largely on the political goals of an animal rights group that seeks to eventually shut down animal agriculture by government mandate,” he said. “The bill ignores the science supporting the consensus among mainstream agricultural veterinarians, animal scientists and livestock producers.
Although this bill concerns only poultry producers, Stallman added it will “undoubtedly be used to bully other livestock producers.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President J.D. Alexander spoke against the bill in April.
“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,” Alexander said in a press statement. “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.”
In the bill
• 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 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 hen houses.
• Prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.