Editor’s note: The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers have formed an alliance to promote passage of this egg bill legislation pending before Congress. For the Humane Farming Association’s opposition to these bills, please read: A Cage Is A Cage – Stop the Rotten Egg Bill. For an overview of the issues involved, please read: Humane Egg Production Practices Reform Legislation
Broad Support by Animal Rights Groups
A bill to improve the plight of 280 million birds used in the egg industry across all 50 states is pending in the U.S. Congress, and gaining support from across the country and from a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress.
H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 are also backed by the editorial boards of leading newspapers, consumer groups, veterinary groups, the egg industry and all of the U.S. animal protection organizations that lead legislative campaigns for egg-laying hens . Unfortunately, the pork and beef industry lobby is desperately trying to kill this bill, even though they have nothing to do with egg production, simply because they oppose any legal protection for farm animals, especially animals on factory farms.
Today, more than 90 percent of the hens used for egg production in our country are crammed into tiny cages that offer each bird even less standing area than a sheet of paper. They live in this state of misery for more than a year before they’re slaughtered. It really is hard to imagine a worse existence.
If H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 are enacted, egg producers using cages would have to double the space per hen and add environmental enrichments that are important to bird behavior such as perches. The law would also require that egg cartons contain information about how the eggs were produced, labels such as “eggs from caged hens” or “eggs from cage-free hens,” so egg consumers could be more fully informed about their purchasing decisions.
One reason so many animal protection groups support this legislation is because most big egg production states are unlikely to enact laws at the state level to protect their egg-laying hens, meaning a national standard is likely the only way to offer hundreds of millions of laying hens some type of relief.
The fact that this bill has so much support from major animal protection organizations, the primary veterinary trade group in the country, and nearly the entire egg industry, offers clear evidence of how broadly supported the reform is. It’s rare in Washington to have all the major stakeholders who are impacted line up with enthusiastic support for a policy, but that’s what we have here.
Unfortunately, in its efforts to kill the bill, the pork and beef lobby has apparently found an ally in the Humane Farming Association.
HFA has never passed a law banning any farm animal confinement practice anywhere. In fact, it’s never even supported any anti-factory farming campaign that’s been placed on a ballot. It refused to even support California’s Proposition 2, a successful ballot initiative aimed at improving conditions for egg-laying hens in California, HFA’s home state. The Humane Society of the United States was the primary sponsor and driving force behind that ballot measure, and while HFA claims to be concerned about protecting the law, when the campaign was being waged, HFA purposefully chose to sit on the sidelines.
The organization has also actively campaigned against other common sense farm animal protection laws, such as California’s law that bans the force-feeding of ducks for foie gras, and takes effect next week.
Groups like HFA offer no alternative legislative pathway to improve the treatment of laying hens. It’s important to remember that most U.S. egg-laying hens are in states where ballot measures are not allowed and where the legislatures are more likely to ban investigations of factory farms than they are to outlaw the extreme confinement of farm animals. For this reason, having the chance to create a national standard to improve the lives of so many animals is an opportunity that the animal protection movement should seize.
Here we have a choice. We can leave hens indefinitely in unbearable, barren cages so small the birds can barely move an inch their entire lives, or we can work toward federal legislation that, if passed, will improve the welfare of hundreds of millions of animals, and will give egg consumers information right on egg cartons so they can make more informed choices. That’s a choice that shouldn’t be hard to make.
Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection for The Humane Society of the United States. Follow him on Twitter at @pshapiro