WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2014 — The likelihood for legislation that would mandate hen housing standards nationwide has been weakened after lawmakers failed to include the measure in the 2014 Farm Bill. United Egg Producers (UEP) President Chad Gregory told his members last week the group has given up on its efforts to pass the so-called Egg Bill, and ended its partnership on the measure with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
“With the Farm Bill debate concluded, UEP is now focused on exploring a range of options with the objective of delivering much-needed business certainty to America’s egg farmers,” Gregory said in a statement to UEP members.
The Egg Products Inspection Act of 2013, or the Egg Bill, supported by a rare joint effort by the UEP and HSUS, would have required conventional egg-laying hen cages to be replaced by colony housing systems with “enrichments” like perches and scratching areas. As negotiations on the farm bill progressed, the measure, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinsten, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., was excluded.
HSUS President Wayne Pacelle said in a blog post Tuesday that the bill stalled “because of the dysfunction of Congress, the blocking maneuvers of a small number of lawmakers, and bullying and lobbying by other sectors of animal agriculture.” He said HSUS will continue to advocate for the Egg Bill.
Other livestock groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) opposed the hen housing legislation on grounds that it would set a precedent for federal lawmakers to regulate all on-farm animal production practices.
Gregory said enriched colony housing represents the future of the egg industry.
“We remain dedicated to partnering with members, allies and other stakeholders in hope of achieving a workable solution of transitioning the industry towards enriched colony housing in a manner and timeframe that best suits our egg farmer members,” Gregory said.
During the 2014 Farm Bill debate, lawmakers rejected an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would have overridden a California law with requirements similar to the Egg Bill.
In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, which prohibits the use of battery cages for hens, to be implemented in 2015. State lawmakers passed a measure in 2010 that applies Proposition 2 standards to out-of-state farmers that sell their eggs in California.
Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit earlier this year against California over the provision. “I don't believe voters in California should be able to set agricultural policy in Missouri,” he said in December when he announced his intention to challenge the law.
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