WASHINGTON, January 4, 2012 -An alliance of livestock and poultry producer groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union is urging the House Agriculture Committee leaders to reject legislation that would codify an agreement between United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States to prescribe mandatory rules for egg-laying hen housing. A federal standard for poultry housing, they argue, could be a precedent that could “leach into all corners of animal farming, irreparably damaging the livelihoods of family farmers across the country.”
UEP and HSUS said last June that they would seek legislation to phase out cages now prevalent in egg production and replace them with “enriched housing” with nearly double the amount of space per hen and mandate labels on egg cartons to show how they were produced. Oregon news reports indicate that Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., hoped to introduce such a bill early this year.
AFBF, NFU and milk, beef, lamb, pork and turkey producer groups joined a newly-created Egg Farmers of America, a coalition of producers opposed to the UEP-HSUS compromise to outline their objections in a letter last month to Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn. If written into law, they said, the agreement would cost the egg industry nearly $10 billion to implement. UEP has put the cost to producers at $4 billion.
The housing and labeling requirements would be “an unconscionable federal overreach,” they wrote, effectively increasing retail egg prices and “wipe out the choice of conventional eggs chosen by more than 90 percent of consumers domestically.” Stringent legal regulations on hen housing in the European Union, they says, have cut egg production in Germany by 20 percent and increased operating costs of egg producers in Britain by as much as 8 percent.
Lobbying on the issue sets up an intriguing competition that is not likely to end soon. The new Egg Farmers of America, founded by operators with as much as 20 percent of U.S. egg production, has been represented since October by the Lesher & Barron consulting firm. UEP has been represented for many years by the McLeod, Watkinson & Miller law and lobby firm.
Original story printed in January 4, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.
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