Egg industry lawyer: HSUS 'caved' on legislation

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

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WASHINGTON, May 2, 2013 - The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) “caved” on federal legislation regulating cage size, Joe Miller, general counsel at Rose Acre Farms, said yesterday at the annual Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit in Arlington, Va. Rose Acre Farms, the second-largest egg producer in the nation, is also a member of the United Egg Producers (UEP), which reached a cage size agreement with HSUS last year.

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“I know the opposition to (the legislation) is that it opens the doors to HSUS and allows them to get into the legislative process of regulating how animals are taken care of,” Miller said. But “I don't think UEP caved into HSUS,” he continued. Miller said that HSUS conceded by allowing cages: “This legislation puts cages in place, puts them in law. That's a huge cave in on HSUS' part.”

Just last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced a bill to codify the HSUS/UEP cage size agreement.  The “Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013” would gradually shift the entire egg producer industry toward enriched colony cage housing over the next twenty years.

Last year, UEP President and CEO Gene Gregory also argued that the final agreement was a result of rigorous debate and compromise between the two parties. UEP initially wanted 90 square inches per bird, while HSUS wanted 216 square inches per bird and cage-free facilities. The groups eventually settled on 124 square inches. The agreement would also allow egg producers to continue using cages.

But other agricultural producers worry the agreement sets a dangerous precedent - and that federal standards regulating housing in other industries cannot be far away.Opposed groups include the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council.

Miller, however, says the agriculture industry has already lost the battle for housing regulations. He said 50 percent of pork producers have already phased out the use of gestation crates (though Dallas Hockman of National Pork Producers Council said that the number is closer to 17 percent). “We've spent a fortune on” trying to beat regulation on a state-by-state basis, Miller said, but animal and environmental groups “are killing us.”

Still, Miller said the HSUS/UEP agreement is a positive step for egg producers because it gives the industry some certainty. He pointed out that five states - California, Oregon, Washington state, Michigan and Ohio - have already passed state laws setting varying cage standards for egg producers.

“Nothing's been built in the egg industry in the last two years because we don't know what to build,” Miller said. “What this (federal) legislation does is simply say that all the cages can be the same size.”


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