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June 19, 2012

Senate Leaders Deny Votes on Animal Welfare Issues During Consideration of the Farm Bill

Egg industry compromise put at risk by reckless Senate action

The Humane Society of the United States strongly objected to action taken by the U.S. Senate last night to exclude consideration of two animal welfare amendments and issues in the Farm bill. Specifically, Senate leaders denied consideration of an egg industry reform measure, requested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, that would have phased out the use of barren battery cages, provided more space and enrichments for hens, and provided greater regulatory security for egg producers, given that there is a growing patchwork of conflicting state laws and food safety standards on the subject. The United Egg Producers and The HSUS worked out an agreement last July to seek a national standard by amending the four-decades-old Egg Products Inspection Act. 

The Senate also denied Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., an opportunity to offer an amendment that would have cracked down on illegal dogfighting and cockfighting operations, by building onto the existing federal law related to animal fighting and making it a crime to attend or to bring a minor to an animal fighting enterprise. Traditionally, the Farm bill has been a vehicle to consider some animal welfare policies, given that the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees and enforces the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and other related statutes and regulations related to the care of animals. 

“It is an outrageous subversion of the process for Senate leaders to deny any consideration of animal welfare issues in the Farm bill,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Tens of millions of Americans care deeply about the welfare of animals, and this snub of that enormous and growing constituency and their denial of progress on critical policy reforms is unprecedented.”

The Farm bill is reauthorized every five years or so, and it deals with wide-ranging agricultural and food policies throughout the nation. “For years, we’ve been lectured to work with the agricultural community, and we did just that by forging an agreement with the egg industry that provides stability and security for egg farmers that will last for many years. The Senate, bowing to special interests in other sectors of animal agribusiness, thumbed its nose at the process of compromise and reconciliation and now has put an agreement between all the major stakeholders at risk. Here’s a case of Congress acting on behalf of special interests and defying common sense,” added Pacelle.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council objected to any improvements on animal welfare within the context of the Farm bill. “These groups lobby for hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars in subsidies in all of their varying forms, but they want no meaningful standards and no accountability when it comes to animal welfare,” Pacelle continued. “They are so extreme on the issue of animal welfare that they’ve even been willing to block progress sought by egg farmers—an entire sector of animal agriculture that they have nothing to do with.”

Not a single Senator has stated his or her opposition to the animal fighting legislation, and the underlying bill has been endorsed by dozens of law enforcement agencies across the country, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. It would close a remaining gap in the federal law which does not currently cover spectators, who finance criminal dogfights and cockfights with their admission fees and gambling wagers. Forty-nine states already have penalties for animal fighting spectators, and the legislation seeks to bring the federal law in line with the state laws, since many animal fighting raids are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional operations. Both the 2002 and 2007 Farm bills had provisions related to animal fighting, so it was in line with past action that this issue be considered on this legislative vehicle. The underlying House bill, H.R. 2492, has nearly 200 cosponsors.

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 each egg-laying hen nearly double the amount of current space; 
  • require that, 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 nationwide 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, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program;
  • require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of egg-laying hens;
  • prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses; and
  • prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.

If enacted, the proposal would 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. (Phase-in schedules are more rapid in California, consistent with a ballot initiative approved earlier by that state’s voters.) Currently, the majority of hens are each provided 67 square inches of space, with up to 50 million receiving just 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.

Media Contact: Anna West, 240-751-2669, awest@humanesociety.org

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