The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) have forged what the groups are terming an “unprecedented agreement” to work together to enact comprehensive new federal legislation for all 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production, which if passed, will mark the first federal law addressing the treatment of farm animals.
Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, said the bill “would be an historic improvement for hundreds of millions of animals per year. 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.”
The proposed legislation would require conventional cages (currently used by more than 90 percent 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 decade and a half to affect this industry-wide make-over.
In addition, all egg-laying hen farmers would be required to provide, through the new enriched housing system, environments that will allow hens to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas. Labeling on all egg cartons nationwide would also be mandated to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs (i.e., eggs from caged hens, eggs from hens in enriched cages, eggs from cage-free hens, and eggs from free-range hens).
If passed, the legislation would also: prohibit feed- or water-withholding molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by UEP’s 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; and 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 - 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.”
If passed by Congress, the legislation would supersede state laws including those that have been passed in Arizona, California, Michigan and Ohio. 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. The requirements will also apply to the sale of all eggs and egg products in California under the proposed federal legislation.
The agreement to pass comprehensive federal legislation for standards of egg production puts on hold a planned ballot measures related to egg-laying hens in both Washington and Oregon.