WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 – Four West Coast congressman joined forces to introduce a bill, H.R. 3798, that would codify an agreement between the Humane Society of the U.S. and the United Egg Producers, but other livestock groups are pushing back hard.
The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, H.R. 3798, introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., will require egg producers to essentially double the space allotted per hen and make other important animal welfare improvements, according to the lawmakers.
But pork and cattle groups say the legislation is the equivalent of a government takeover of farms.
“This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals,” said NPPC President Doug Wolf, a hog farmer from Lancaster, Wis. “We don’t need or want the federal government and HSUS telling us how to do our jobs.”
“This one-size-fits-all farm takeover bill is government intrusion on family farms at its worst and is unnecessary,” he added. “If enacted, it would open Pandora’s Box for special interest groups to pursue similar federal laws on pig farmers, dairy farmers and other family farming operations.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Bill Donald also expressed concern.
“This legislation, while currently only affecting egg producers, could set a dangerous precedent to allow government bureaucrats in Washington to mandate how farmers and ranchers across the nation raise and care for their animals,” said Donald. “This ill-conceived legislation could set the model for a one-size-fits-all approach to cattle production. Unfortunately, one-size-fits all doesn’t work with cattle producers, who are in diverse settings in all 50 states. This legislation won’t improve animal health or care and will result in further costly and burdensome regulations being placed on America’s food producers.”
Egg producers say the legislation would help them better plan for the future.
"Eggs are a national commodity, and egg producers should have a level playing field – not have different, costly rules in all 50 states," said Gene Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers. "That's where we are heading if we don't pass this federal legislation. We need this legislation for our customers and consumers and the survival of egg farmers."
HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle said the legislation balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry.
"The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace an agreement between all of the key stakeholders,” he added.
Rep. Farr, ranking member of the agricultural appropriations subcommittee said the bill represents a “common-sense” approach.
"Having consistent rules and a national standard will help egg producers meet the consumer demand for safe, wholesome food and will send a message that doing what's good for animal welfare and what's good for industry economics are not mutually exclusive."
According to a press release from the bill’s sponsors, H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, would:
· require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space;
· require that, after a phase-in period, all egg-laying hens be provided with environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas, that will allow hens to express natural behaviors;
· require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs – "eggs from caged hens," "eggs from hens in enriched cages," "eggs from cage-free hens," and "eggs from free-range hens";
· prohibit feed- or water-withdrawal molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program;
· require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of egg-laying hens;
· prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses; and
· prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these requirements.
If enacted, the proposal would require egg producers to increase space per hen in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space hens are given increasing, in intervals, over the next 15 to 18 years. (Phase-in schedules are more rapid in California, consistent with a ballot initiative approved earlier by that state's voters.) Currently, the majority of hens are each provided 67 square inches of space, with up to 50 million receiving just 48 square inches. The proposed phase-in would culminate with a minimum of 124 square inches of space for white hens and 144 for brown hens nationwide.
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