Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and a bipartisan group of seven other senators introduced a bill late last week to set federal housing standards for egg-laying hens, again sparking protest from both pork and beef producers, as well as other animal rights activists who are now calling it the “rotten egg bill.”
The measure, which mirrors a bill recently introduced in the House, is based on a landmark deal struck between the Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers, would double the space allowed to each of the nation’s approximately 280 million egg-laying hens, which HSUS has advocated for years, and also give the egg industry regulatory certainty across state lines.
The compromise has the support of American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as well as several consumer groups and state egg associations, but it’s not clear whether the coalition will have a strong enough coalition to put it into law, especially since other powerful agricultural interests and some animal rights groups are actively fighting the proposal.
After Feinsten introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 — 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) — the Humane Farming Association expressed “outrage” over the move.
“The egg industry is seeking to establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote,” said Bradley Miller, National Director of HFA. “This bill would preempt state laws, such as California’s Proposition 2, and is a direct assault upon egg laying hens, voters, and states’ rights.”
National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Chief Executive Officer Neil Dierks told National Hog Farmer that the proposal “has far too big an impact on consumers for them to be introduced without any public hearings or debate.”
The UEP seems to be standing alone in the animal agriculture community. The American Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Turkey Federation and others have also balked at the plan. Animal ag groups have expressed strong concerns about the precedent the bill would set, calling it “an unconscionable federal overreach.”
The egg industry argues that the bill is in the best interest of the industry.
“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” said Gene Gregory, president of UEP. “Our industry is being endangered by the growing patchwork of differing and contradictory state laws and ballot initiatives that are impeding the free flow of interstate commerce in eggs that is so vital to grocers, restaurateurs, food manufacturers and consumers.”
Both HSUS and UEP are pointing out that their proposal affects only egg producers. The bill in the House was sponsored by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jeff Denham (R-CA).