From Keith Good at FarmPolicy.com, Inc.
William Neuman reported in today’s New York Times that, “Two groups that are usually squawking at each other — egg farmers and animal welfare advocates — announced an unusual agreement on Thursday to work together to seek a federal law that would require larger cages and other improved conditions for the nation’s 280 million laying hens.
“The deal comes after the egg industry has been put increasingly on the defensive. Animal welfare groups have clandestinely recorded videos showing poor conditions on farms, and various states have sought to set more humane standards for hens. Egg producers have also been struggling to improve their image after tainted eggs from several farms in Iowa sickened thousands of people in a nationwide salmonella outbreak last year.
“The agreement was announced by the nation’s main egg industry group, the United Egg Producers, which represents farmers who own about 80 percent of the nation’s laying hens, and the Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization.”
The Times article added that, “The groups said they would ask Congress to pass a law enacting the new standards, which they said would be the first federal law addressing the treatment of farm animals and would pre-empt efforts in several states to set their own standards.
“The proposed federal standards would include cages that give hens up to 144 square inches of space each, compared with the 67 square inches that most hens have today. They would also include so-called habitat enrichments, like perches, scratching areas and nesting areas, that allow the birds to express natural behavior.”
Mr. Neuman indicated that, “In a statement Thursday, the National Pork Producers Council said that a federal law regulating living conditions for hens ‘would set a dangerous precedent for allowing the federal government to dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals.’
“Robert L. Krouse, chairman of United Egg Producers, acknowledged the difficulties ahead.
“‘That’s part of what we have to do, as United Egg Producers, is talk with these other groups and hopefully get them to see our point of view,’ said Mr. Krouse, an Indiana egg farmer. ‘We understand their concerns, but this is about egg producers, this is a solution that we’ve found for us.’”
Today’s article noted that, “A federal law would be intended to pre-empt state laws. But the groups said it would have to include a faster transition timetable for California egg farmers to match the schedule approved in the ballot measure there, which requires larger cages by 2015.”
A statement yesterday from Arnie Riebli, the President of the Association of California Egg Farmers indicated that:
“While we are still in the process of reviewing today’s agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers, we welcome the recognition by HSUS that the enriched colony system is a suitable hen habitat. California’s egg farmers have long advocated the use of an enriched colony system as a superior living area for hens.
“At the same time, we are very disappointed that California is not being treated equally as the other 49 states. While the rest of the nation’s egg producers have until 2029 to spend an estimated five billion dollars necessary to comply with this agreement, California egg farmers must comply by 2015.”
Philip Brasher, writing yesterday at his new FoodWatch Blog, reported that, “The egg industry has known for some time that the so-called battery cages that are now the standard industry practice would have to be replaced with something more acceptable to the public. But producers didn’t want to go cage-free, as HSUS had been pushing, in part because cage-free operations require more and better trained workers. Cage-free hens also need more feed, further increasing production costs. The industry preferred instead to switch to a larger style of cages, known as ‘enriched colony’ housing, that give the birds more room to move around and also include perches and nesting areas. (See photo) The deal announced today between HSUS and the United Egg Producers allows the industry to do just that and gives farms a decade and a half to phase in the new housing.
“There’s a big catch, however. The two groups agreed to jointly ask Congress for a federal law that set standards and a timeline for the changes, and that legislation will have to pass for the deal to go through. If the bill doesn’t pass, ‘then the agreement would be off and we’d be likely to see more ballot measures, litigation, etc. Both sides want to work together to enact,’ HSUS’ Paul Shapiro told me.”
And the AP reported yesterday that, “Threatened with a series of state laws cracking down on cramped cages, the egg industry on Thursday said it would agree to seek federal regulation to improve conditions for egg-laying hens.
Statement Of National Pork Producers Council
Feedstuffs. HSUS, UEP reach agreement to transition to colonies
Brownfield. HSUS, United Egg agree on federal standards
Brownfield. NPPC president says federal standard bad idea
Better housing for hens may mean higher prices for eggs