A bipartisan group of senators is hoping to add what would be the first federal standards for livestock housing and welfare to the Farm Bill, which the upper chamber is set to begin debating today.
With Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) leading the charge, a dozen senators have backed the standards measure, which would mandate the phase-out of battery cages over an 18 year transition period. The bill would double the space given to each of the nation’s more than 250 million egg-laying hens by phasing in enriched colony housing that allow the hens to express natural behaviors like perching and nesting.
The legislation is the result of an unusual compromise between groups that are normally adversaries: the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights group, and the United Egg Producers, an group representing 88 percent of the egg industry. Both groups see the deal, which was struck after a year of negotiations, as win-win. The industry wants regulatory certainty going forward, instead of facing a patchwork of conflicting state standards, and HSUS wants egg-laying hens to live better lives.
Feinstein first introduced the bill last month, with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA.), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), David Vitter (R-LA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and is now adding the bill as an amendment. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are also supporting Feinstein’s addition to the Farm Bill.
Though the amendment is backed by a variety of egg industry, animal welfare, consumer, and veterinary groups — like the American Veterinary Medical Association, Mercy for Animals, and the National Consumers League — it is not clear whether Feinstein will have the votes she needs. Most other livestock groups are fiercely opposed to the legislation — calling it a “farm take over bill” and a “rotten egg” — fearing that it would set a precedent for further regulations on food animal production.
Asked whether UEP and HSUS would have the votes to advance the measure, Gene Gregory, president of UEP, said that the group was “very pleased with the support we have received in both the House and Senate.” Gregory said that that since the bill would pose no cost to taxpayers, and is supported by the industry and a broad range of interests, “it should be a straightforward, logical choice for Congress vote in favor of it.”
“The only opposition has come from some livestock and farm groups that are not involved in the egg industry at all, and would not be affected in any way by the amendment to the Egg Products Inspection Act,” added Gregory.
“It’s my hope that Senators break free of the old paradigm – animal advocates versus agriculture industries – and recognize that this solution serves all parties, especially consumers,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS. “Failure to enact this provision will mean that the egg industry and animal advocates will go back to costly state-by-state battles that will slow down progress, cost both sides hundreds of millions of dollars, and leave all parties with uncertain outcomes.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Agriculture Committee, said Tuesday that initially only two amendments — on U.S. sugar policy and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — will be considered with the Farm Bill today, a move that “allows the process to move forward while leaders continue to work on an agreement on the full slate of amendments that will come up for a vote.”© Food Safety News