The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Feinstein coalition introduces egg-laying cage bill

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

In a signal that senators are preparing amendments to be considered on the farm bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a bipartisan coalition of seven other senators Thursday introduced a bill based on an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers that would set housing standards for egg-laying hens.

Feinstein introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., David Vitter, R-La., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The legislation, which has been developed to counter state-level initiatives that set chicken cage sizes, “will require egg producers to essentially double the space allotted per hen and make other important animal welfare improvements 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,” HSUS and UEP said in a news release.

“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” said Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, which represents farmers who produce nearly 90 percent of the eggs in the U.S.

“Our industry is being endangered by the growing patchwork of differing and contradictory state laws and ballot initiatives that are impeding the free flow of interstate commerce in eggs that is so vital to grocers, restaurateurs, food manufacturers and consumers,” Gregory said.

“This legislation is a compromise between HSUS and UEP, with both organizations stretching themselves in order to find a solution that’s good for animal welfare, for the industry and for the nation as a whole,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

“We have worked to forge a solution that provides a pathway for a dramatic advance for the welfare of animals in agriculture,” Pacelle said. “There’s no reason for Congress to do anything but enthusiastically embrace this sort of problem-solving by the primary stakeholders.”

HSUS and UEP noted that the measure has been endorsed by the 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 state and regional 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, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, New England Brown Egg Council, North Carolina Egg Association, Ohio Egg Processors Association, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

The Egg Farmers of America, an opposition group, said Thursday that it “will stand in vehement opposition to S. 3239, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, as an unconscionable government intrusion on the free market system. We will ask those senators who have sworn off costly, unnecessary government regulation during this fragile economic period to stand with us in opposition to this legislation.”

Tyson Redpath, a lobbyist working for the Egg Farmers of America, said that the legislation “would force an overhaul of an entire industry of which 95 percent currently use existing conventional housing.”

“Moreover, it turns its back on consumers, 96 percent of whom choose eggs from conventional housing because it is the most affordable source of protein available,” Redpath said. “And, for the first time ever, Congress will prescribe, inch per cubic inch, on farm production standards absent any food safety, animal care or other scientific justification.”

His group will maintain that egg farmers, “not Congress, are best positioned to care for their animals,” he said.

Redpath also noted that the National Farmers Union, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Sheep Industry Association all oppose the legislation.