WASHINGTON — Passage of HR 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 will be a top legislative priority in Congress this year for The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers. Both groups relay the sponsoring lawmakers’ federal legislation will result in housing improvements for 280 million hens involved in egg production, plus provide a stable future for egg farmers.

Recently introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, would:

  • Require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space.
  • Require after a phase-in period, all egg-laying hens be provided with environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas, that will allow hens to express natural behaviors.
  • Require labeling on all egg cartons throughout the US to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs — "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-withdrawal molting to extend the laying cycle.
  • Require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of egg-laying hens.
  • Prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses.
  • Prohibit transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these requirements.

The legislation is supported by many animal welfare groups, National Consumers League, most egg farmers and state agricultural and egg producer groups, including the Association of California Egg Farmers, Colorado Egg Producers Association, Florida Poultry Association, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, North Carolina Egg Association and Ohio Egg Processors Association.

In recent years, more states have approved conflicting standards for egg production, frequently applying those standards to all eggs sold in the state — including those produced out-of-state, according to the legislation's supporters. As a result, egg farmers have said they foresee an unworkable patchwork of conflicting state laws that will make interstate commerce in eggs difficult, if not impossible. A federal standard is the only solution, egg farmers have insisted, that enhances hen welfare and ensures a sustainable future for America's family-owned egg farms, according to the United Egg Producers.

If enacted, the proposal will require egg producers to increase space per hen in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space hens are given increasing, in intervals, over the next 15 to 18 years. At present, most hens are each provided 67 square inches of space, with up to 50 million receiving 48 square inches. The proposed phase-in would culminate with a minimum of 124 square inches of space for white hens and 144 for brown hens nationwide.