Humane Society and United Egg seek federal animal welfare guidelines

By Sara Wyant

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WASHINGTON, July 7 - The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) announced an historic agreement to work on new federal legislation for all 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production. If enacted, the standards advocated by UEP and HSUS would define the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms.

The landmark compromise gives HSUS a leg up in trying to obtain federal animal welfare laws, after years of trying and failing, so it's little wonder that other livestock groups, like the National Pork Producers Council, are scratching their heads over the agreement.

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“Legislation pre-empting state laws on egg production systems would set a dangerous precedent for allowing the federal government to dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals. It would inject the federal government into the marketplace with no measureable benefit to public or animal health and welfare,” said NPPC President Doug Wolf.

“NPPC is gravely concerned that such a one-size-fits-all approach will take away producers' freedom to operate in a way  that's best for their animals, make it difficult to respond to consumer demands, raise retail meat prices and take away consumer  choice, devastate niche producers and, at a time of constrained budgets for agriculture, redirect valuable resources from

enhancing food safety and maintaining the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture to regulating on-farm production practices  for reasons other than public health and welfare,” Wolf explained.

Lacking a federal glide path, HSUS resorted in recent years to a state-by-state strategy where the animal rights organization has been more successful with high profile ballot initiatives, in California and more recently, Ohio. However, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives seems unlikely to go along with negating states rights-a core principle of this new agreement.

As HSUS pointed out on their web site in making the announcement:

“This law, if enacted, would represent the first time that any species of animal is provided with federal protection from abuse while on factory farms, the first federal farm animal protection law in more than 30 years, and the first time that chickens used in food production are provided any federal protections at all. It would create a critical labeling system to help inform consumers and-most critically-improve the lives of the hundreds of millions of animals used in egg production each year.”

Here's the basis for the new agreement, according to HSUS and UEP:

• Require conventional cages (currently used by more than 90 percent of the egg industry) to be replaced, through an ample phase-in period, with new, enriched housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they're currently allotted. Egg producers will invest an additional $4 billion over the next decade and a half to effect this industry-wide make-over;

• Require that all egg-laying hens be provided, through the new enriched housing system, with environments that will allow them to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas;

• Mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” and “eggs from free-range hens.”

The proposed phase-in would culminate with hens nationwide being provided a minimum of 124-144 square inches of space, along with the other improvements noted.

 “America's egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers,” said Bob Krouse, chairman of UEP and an Indiana egg farmer. “We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers.”

“Passing this bill would be a historic improvement for hundreds of millions of animals per year,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “It is always our greatest hope to find common ground and to forge solutions, even with traditional adversaries. We are excited about a new and better pathway forward and hope the Congress seizes the opportunity to embrace this sort of collaboration and mutual understanding. We extend our thanks to the producers within the industry for agreeing to make the needed investments to upgrade their housing and improve animal welfare in a meaningful way.”

If passed by Congress, the legislation would supersede state laws including those that have been passed in Arizona, California, Michigan and Ohio.

In recognition of ballot Proposition 2 passed by voters in that California in 2008, UEP and HSUS will ask Congress to require California egg producers-with nearly 20 million laying hens-to eliminate conventional cages by 2015 (the date Prop 2 is scheduled to go into effect), and provide all hens with the space and environmental enrichments that the rest of the egg industry will be phasing in over the next 15 to 18 years. These requirements will also apply to the sale of all eggs and egg products in California under the proposed federal legislation.

This agreement to pass comprehensive federal legislation for standards of egg production puts a hold on planned HSUS ballot measures related to egg-laying hens in both Washington and Oregon. 




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