WASHINGTON –On July 7, the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers announced they will work together toward enacting new federal legislation for all 280 million hens involved in US egg production. If enacted, the proposed standards advocated by both groups would define the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms, they claim.
But the National Pork Producers Council questions legislation pre-empting state laws on egg production systems would set a dangerous precedent for allowing the federal government to dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals.
The proposed legislation would:
• Require conventional cages (currently used by more than 90 percent of the egg industry) to be replaced, through an ample phase-in period, with new, enriched housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they’re currently allotted. Egg producers will invest an additional $4 billion over the next decade and a half to effect this industry-wide make-over.
• Require all egg-laying hens be provided, through the new enriched housing system, with environments that will allow them to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas.
• Mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “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-withholding molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program adhered to by a majority of egg farmers.
• Require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia for egg laying hens.
• Prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses.
• Prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.
Both groups will ask Congress for federal legislation, which would require egg producers to increase space per bird in a tiered phase in, with the amount of space birds are given increasing, in intervals, over the next 15 to 18 years. Currently, most birds are each provided 67 square inches of space, with roughly 50 million receiving 48 square inches. The proposed phase-in would culminate with hens nationwide being provided a minimum of 124-144 square inches of space, along with the other improvements noted.
In response, NPPC stated, “It would inject the federal government into the marketplace with no measureable benefit to public or animal health and welfare. NPPC is gravely concerned that such a one-size-fits-all approach will take away producers’ freedom to operate in a way that’s best for their animals, make it difficult to respond to consumer demands, raise retail meat prices and take away consumer choice, devastate niche producers and.....redirect valuable resources from enhancing food safety and maintaining the competitiveness of US agriculture to regulating on-farm production practices for reasons other than public health and welfare.”