Utah is the eighth state to require that egg-laying hens be kept in cage-free systems by 2025. Gov. Spencer J. Cox signed Senate Bill 147 into law on March 17.
Earlier it passed 25-2 in the Senate with two absent. It was approved 63-to-7 by the House with five not voting. A substitute with some minor amendments to SB 147 is what gained final passage.
Sen. Scott D. Sandall, D-Box Elder, sponsored SB 147, with Rep.Joel Ferry, R-Box Elder, serving as the bill’s floor manager. Both are members of Utah’s farm-rancher community.
With Utah, cage-free mandates will add to the housing boom for laying hens. Others with the mandates include Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and Colorado. Earlier cage-free laws were passed as state ballot issues by voters. Utah and Colorado’s 2020 passage are examples of more recent laws adopted by the legislative process.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service reports that about 30 percent of U.S. egg production currently comes from hens kept in cage-free housing systems. Various shell egg buyers have pledged to switch to cage-free eggs by 2025. and numerous producers are investing in more cage-free capacity.
The Utah law adopts the United Egg Producers case-free guidelines, which establish 1 to 1.5 square feet of floor space per hen. And it spells out that battery cages, enriched colony cages, modified cages, convertible cases, furnished cages, and other such cage systems won’t be legal after 2025.
Whether more cage-free egg production helps or harms the safety of shell eggs is another question. Various housing systems have their advantages and disadvantages for egg safety, according to experts.
Ken Klippen, president of the National Egg Farmers, warned Beehive State consumers that by 2025 they might have to become accustomed to finding roundworms in their cage-free eggs. Without the cages, hens are free to find roundworms in infected feces on the ground.
Eggs are especially susceptible to Salmonella Enteritidis (SE). The Food and Drug Administration adopted the Egg Safety Rule in 2019 in hopes of preventing 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths annually based on the size of the U.S. egg industry at that time. And SE-contaminated eggs have even been a problem in backyard blocks where a few laying hens are able to roam free.
Large egg producers, those over 50,000 or more laying hens, were first to fall under the new rule. Since then, egg producers must implement safety standards to control risks associated with pests, rodents, and other hazards; and purchase chicks and hens from suppliers who control Salmonella in their flocks.
Egg Rule compliance has been required of all producers since 2012, except those with 3,000 or fewer hens. Yet periodic large outbreaks and recalls have continued.
Under Utah’s law, cage-free housing can be an indoor or controlled outdoor environment where the egg-laying hens are free to roam among scratch areas, perches, rest boxes, and bathing areas.
The Utah Attorney General’s office is responsible for the actual rulemaking under the new Cage-Free law.
Utah produces 1.5 billion eggs annually, a $75 million industry for the state. It ships 23 million eggs to China and annually sells 8 million eggs to Mexico.
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