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April 25, 2013

Federal Bills Introduced to Improve Housing for Egg-Laying Hens and Provide Stable Future for Egg Farmers

Egg Industry and Animal Welfare Groups Enthusiastically Support Legislation

The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers applaud the introduction of S. 820 and H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. This bipartisan legislation, similar to S. 3239 and H.R. 3798 from the 112th Congress, would ratify an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups to improve the treatment of 280 million laying hens used in U.S. egg production, while providing a stable future for egg farmers.

The legislation outlines a minimum, national standard for egg production and hen housing in the United States in place of an increasing labyrinth of contradictory state laws during a tiered phase-in period that allows farmers time to make the investments in better housing, with the assurance that all will face the same requirements by the end of the phase-in period.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said: “The HSUS and UEP have been long-time adversaries, but have come together and identified a solution that balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry. The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace an agreement between all of the key stakeholders.”

Chad Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, which represents farmers who produce more than 90 percent of the eggs in the U.S., said: “This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices. We desperately need a federal statute that establishes one national standard of egg production because the current myriad state legislation threatens to eliminate interstate egg commerce, destroying our businesses and potentially leading to egg shortages and consumer price spikes in many states. This would create a major hardship for millions of low- and middle-income consumers.”

David Lathem, second-generation egg farmer from Georgia and chairman of United Egg Producers, said: “This is legislation that egg farmers want and need to survive. Because it is an amendment to the Egg Products Inspection Act it only affects egg farmers: no other farmers would be impacted. We thank these members of Congress for their leadership.”

Last year’s similar legislation had an unusually diverse coalition of backers in industry, animal welfare, science-based groups and consumer protection, including UEP, The HSUS, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Avian Pathologists, Association of Avian Veterinarians, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Farm Sanctuary, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, and agricultural and egg producer groups, including the Arkansas Egg Council, Association of California Egg Farmers, Colorado Egg Producers Association, Florida Poultry Association, Georgia Egg Association, Indiana State Poultry Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, Michigan Farmers Union, New England Brown Egg Council, Nebraska Farmers Union, North Carolina Egg Association, Ohio Egg Processors Association, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and United Farm Workers.

The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 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;
  • mandate 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, with temporary exemptions for extraordinary weather;
  • prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that do not meet these requirements;
  • make explicit that bill only applies to commercial egg production, not any other livestock or poultry production.

If enacted, the proposal would require egg farmers 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 16 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 some 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.

Farmers have begun to invest in enrichable cage housing systems in hopes that this legislation will pass and provide clarity for what is acceptable hen housing in all states in the future.

In addition to Sen. Feinstein and Reps. Schrader, Denham, Farr, and Fitzpatrick, original cosponsors of the bills include Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

Media Contacts:

The HSUS: Anna West, 240-751-2669, awest@humanesociety.org

UEP: Mitch Head, 678-488-5252, mhead@golinharris.com

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