On top of the infighting among animal agriculture groups over a proposed bill to set national welfare standards for egg production — which has pitted the egg industry against pork, beef, and poultry — there is some conflict among animal rights groups as well.

The Humane Farming Association, a California based anti-factory farming group, is trying to convince lawmakers to vote against what it calls the “rotten egg bill,” which has been proposed in both chambers, most recently as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill in the Senate.

As the Senate began debate on the Farm Bill Wednesday, the group ran a quarter-page advertisement in the Washington Post calling the egg bill a price-fixing scheme that would “deprive states of the right to enforce anti-cruelty laws which prohibit battery cages.”

The legislation to slowly phase in “enriched colony housing” for laying hens, which would double the space for each bird, was the result of a landmark deal struck between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States, two groups who had been fighting bitterly over state egg initiatives for years. The compromise seeks to give egg producers regulatory certainty, while fulfilling HSUS’ goal of giving hens more space.

But HFA and other local groups are angry that standards might preempt state laws that seek to go above and beyond the welfare standards in the HSUS-UEP deal.

“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.”

The debate over federal standards has put some animal rights groups — like HFA, Friends of Animals, United Poultry Concerns, Action for Animals, and Last Chance for Animals — squarely alongside the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and American Farm Bureau in opposition to the bill.

“There is no such thing as an ‘enriched’ battery cage,” said Priscilla Fera, president of Friends of Animals. “This is an outrageous attempt by the egg industry and its cohorts to enrich themselves at the expense of laying hens and the public at large.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) first introduced the egg 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) as cosponsors, and 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 effort to add the measure 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, Farm Sanctuary, and the National Consumers League — it is not clear whether Feinstein will have the votes she needs to attach the bill.

Livestock groups remain vehemently opposed to the legislation, calling it the “farm takeover bill,” and it’s not yet clear if Feinstein and her colleagues will succeed in bringing the amendment to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is keeping tight control of the amendments allowed for consideration. Of the more than 200 amendments that have been filed, the Senate considered two on its first day of debate and negotiations over which amendments will see the floor are ongoing. Debate is set to resume at 9:30 a.m. EST today.

  • Failure to specify living space requirement per hen and to ban cages outright enabled California egg producers to challenge what had been promoted as a ban on cages for egg-laying hens if Proposition 2 became law. At most, if the proposed federal legislation now under consideration is implemented as of January 1, 2030, white hens who represent the majority of egg-laying hens in the US will get a maximum living space per hen of 124 square inches, which is less than a square foot for each bird. At most, the larger brown hens will get 144 square inches which is exactly 1 square foot per bird. So even if a federal law goes into effect 18 years from now, the most space that any caged hen will have for her entire life is one square foot or less. States will be prevented from passing laws requiring better living conditions for hens, and the proposed federal legislation does not provide penalties for noncompliance.
    Karen Davis, PhD, President
    United Poultry Concerns
    (757) 678-7875
    “Proposed Legislation for Egg-Laying Hens: An Update”
    (In What’s New http://www.upc-online.org/whatsnew)

  • eric mills

    This regressive legislation, if passed in its current form, would do at least three things, all of them unacceptable and reason to kill these bills:
    1. Invalidate California’s hard-won Proposition 2;
    2. Enshrine battery cages FOREVER; and
    3. Ban any future state ballot initiatives to improve conditions for these miserable chickens.
    Indeed, the legislative director for Oregon Congressman Schrader has confirmed that all of the above is true. ‘Nuf said?
    Adding insult to injury, the “cage enrichments” are a joke–and unenforceable.
    The chickens (and we) deserve far better than this.
    Eric Mills, coordinator
    Oakland, CA
    P.S. – More than 80% of the pharmaceuticals produced in the U.S. are fed to farm animals (including chickens), often with dire results for the animals themselves, as well as for the people who consume these products.