WASHINGTON — In a surprise move, the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers announced an agreement July 7 meant to act as a roadmap to the future of the egg industry.
The duo formed an agreement that they want Congress to pass that would become the first federal law to address the treatment of animals on farms.
“This agreement is historic and unprecedented. It is a pathway for economic success in the egg business,” said Wayne Pacelle, CEO, the Humane Society of the United States said during a news conference.
He added this proposal could become the first national law to set standards for animal production in the United States.
“Instead of a patchwork of laws in different states, there will just be one law,” Pacelle said.
The UEP will be using audits in years to come (UEP producers undergo regular audits currently) to ensure the new regulations are enforced by UEP.
The federal law if passed would prhibit the sale of eggs and egg products that don’t meet the requirements.
The two groups will jointly ask Congress for federal legislation that 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.
The retrofitting of the barns is expected to cost more than $4 billion nationwide.
If the agreement becomes federal law, it would supersede the standards under consideration by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, or other state laws including those passed in Arizona, California and Michigan, according to the HSUS.
In recognition of ballot Proposition 2 passed by voters in that California in 2008, UEP and HSUS will ask Congress to require California egg producers — with nearly 20 million laying hens — to eliminate conventional cages by 2015 (the date Prop 2 is scheduled to go into effect), and provide all hens with the space and “environmental enrichments” that the rest of the egg industry will be phasing in over the next 15 to 18 years.
These requirements would also apply to the sale of all eggs and egg products in California under the proposed federal legislation.
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.
The improvements include requiring all egg-laying hens be provided the ability to exhibit natural behaviors through the enriched housing system. The housing units will include perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas.
“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.
Krouse said the trade organization represents 80 percent of the egg producers in the United States and stated the group was not dragged into the agreement kicking and screaming.
“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.”
(Be sure to check back, as the Farm and Dairy staff will continue to update this story. In addition, check out what the Ohio Poultry Association is saying about the announcement.)