Major livestock groups are urging Congress to reject the historic deal struck between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) on egg production, but egg producers are not backing down.
UEP, which represents 87 percent of domestic egg production, and HSUS are jointly petitioning Congress 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.
The groups want to amend the Egg Products Inspection Act to mandate standards they agreed to in a landmark agreement in July. Eggs produced under conditions that don’t meet the new standards would not be allowed for sale in the U.S. under the new proposal, which would fully phase out battery cages by 2029.
Egg producers say they’re seeking the national standards in the face of a growing patchwork of varying state laws and regulations. Livestock groups are not pleased about the idea, which they fear will create a precedent for more federal regulations on livestock care.
In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee sent last week, eight leading livestock groups blasted the proposal, saying that it would impose “costly and unnecessary animal rights mandates,” according to a Feedstuffs report.
Livestock interest groups said that the uniform standards would ensure that “Congress will be in the egg business for years to come” and even called the proposal “an unconscionable federal overreach.” The groups argue the new standards’ $10 billion price tag would eliminate jobs and reduce consumer choice.
The letter was signed by the Egg Farmers of America, which represents a small fraction of the egg industry, the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council and National Turkey Federation, according to Feedstuffs.
United Egg Producers fired back Thursday with their own letters to both agriculture committees on Capitol Hill.
“Although we respect the right of the livestock groups to make their views known, the letter provides an overheated and distorted view of an initiative that is strongly supported by U.S. egg farmers,” said the letter.
In their rebuttal, UEP called the fear of setting a precedent for burdensome regulation as “hypothetical and baseless.”
“We hope Congress will realize that we are seeking legislation only for the egg industry,” continues the letter. “Both we and HSUS will oppose efforts to bring any other livestock or poultry species into the legislation.”
When the deal was announced in July, egg industry representatives said they would be closely monitoring and studying the humane standards’ impact on food safety.
“We have to make sure that we’re not giving up anything on the food safety front,” said a leading executive, who added that the industry would still be following the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.