The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers — who, by all accounts, are strange bedfellows — announced Monday strong support for H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, which was introduced this week by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jeff Denham (R-CA).
United Egg Producers, which represents 87 percent of domestic egg production, and HSUS struck a historic deal to create national animal welfare standards for egg production, notably transitioning from battery cages to enriched housing systems, including perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas that provide laying hens almost double the amount of space than current systems.
In exchange for a national standard, HSUS agreed to stop seeking stricter state-level egg standard laws, which create a patchwork of varying and sometimes conflicting regulations for the industry. The Egg Inspection Act Amendments would put the deal struck between the two groups into law.
Livestock groups are outraged over the proposal, which they fear will set an unwelcome precedent for more federal regulations on livestock care.
The National Pork Producers Council has been especially critical of the idea.
“This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals,” said NPPC president Doug Wolf, a hog farmer from Lancaster, WI. “We don’t need or want the federal government and HSUS telling us how to do our jobs.”
“If enacted, it would open Pandora’s Box for special interest groups to pursue similar federal laws on pig farmers, dairy farmers and other family farming operations,” added Wolf.
NPPC called on lawmakers to oppose the so-called “Farm Takeover Bill.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reacted similarly. “This ill-conceived legislation could set the model for a one-size-fits-all approach to cattle production,” said NCBA president Bill Donald. “Unfortunately, one-size-fits all doesn’t work with cattle producers, who are in diverse settings in all 50 states. This legislation won’t improve animal health or care and will result in further costly and burdensome regulations being placed on America’s food producers.”
Egg producers and HSUS are standing firm on the issue, arguing that national legislation is needed.
“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 HSUS and UEP have been long-time adversaries, but have come together and identified a solution that balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace an agreement between all of the key stakeholders.”
According to UEP and HSUS, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, would:
-require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space;
-require that, after a phase-in period, all egg-laying hens be provided with environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas, that will allow hens to express natural behaviors;
-require 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 already 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 henhouses; and
-prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements
“As an advocate for agriculture and animal welfare, I am pleased to join my colleagues in co-sponsoring this common-sense legislation that will help farmers, consumers and animals,” said Rep. Farr, ranking member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement Monday. “Having consistent rules and a national standard will help egg producers meet the consumer demand for safe, wholesome food and will send a message that doing what’s good for animal welfare and what’s good for industry economics are not mutually exclusive.”