Today letters were hand-delivered to the Washington State offices of U.S. Senators Ed Murray and Maria Cantwell (both D-WA), as well as U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), urging them to oppose The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 (H.R. 1731/S. 820). Green Vegans, NARN, Action for Animals, and United Poultry Concerns were signatories to the letters. The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 would condemn egg-laying hens to confinement in battery cages forever, and would prohibit any future challenge by state law or public vote. This bill has provisions that would fare even worse for hens than the similar bill that failed to pass last year.
Below is the text of the letter delivered to Congressman Dermott–the letters to Senators Cantwell and Murray are exactly the same except for the substitution of “S. 820” for any mention of “H.R. 1731.”
Dear Congressman McDermott,
H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013, is a far worse bill than proposed in 2012. Though the bill amends an Act that addresses itself entirely to the quality of table eggs and concerns about maintaining public health, the H.R. 1731 amendments take on an entirely new subject: changes in the housing of hens who produce table eggs. Though this letter does not cover all the flaws and threats of the bill, these are our major concerns. We oppose this bill in its entirety and ask you to oppose it for the following reasons.
First, no person, organization, or state government may improve the welfare and treatment of egg-laying hens if it differs from the inadequacies of the Act. There is no sunset language in this bill. According to the proposed bill, no person, agency, or act of Washington State government could implement science-based improvements based on studies of animal behavior before or after 2029 when the bill comes into full implementation: Requirements within the scope of this Act with respect to minimum floor space allotments or enrichments for egg-laying hens housed in commercial egg production which are in addition to or different than those made under this Act may not be imposed by any State or local jurisdiction [Section 4(b)(c) of the bill]. H.R. 1731 will disenfranchise your constituents from this matter—completely. We hope this issue alone, the disenfranchisement of the people of Washington State, will move you to oppose this misleading bill.
Second, H.R. 1731 removed important definitions and deadlines. It currently states: “(a) The term ‘adequate environmental enrichments’ means adequate perch space, dust bathing or scratching areas, and nest space, as defined by the Secretary of Agriculture, based on the best available science, including the most recent studies available at the time that the Secretary defines the term.” The deadline schedule for the Secretary of Agriculture to define “adequate environmental enrichments” has been deleted from the 2013 version of the bill. The deleted section from 2012 read, “The Secretary shall issue regulations defining this term not later than January 1, 2017, and the final regulations shall go into effect on December 31, 2018.” The number of nesting spaces serves as an example of the need for clearly defined implementation. Research demonstrates that the lack of nesting opportunity is extremely stressful to the hen as it is one of several innate behavioral needs. Yet the Secretary is not required to specify any interior changes to cages excepting square inches per hen, itself a gross denial of the hens’ basic needs.
Third, the 2012 version of the bill used the word “must” consistently as the implementing mandate, as in “must provide environmental enrichment”; the 2013 bill (the “Amendments”) replaces “must” with “shall” throughout. We believe “must” was replaced with “shall” to further weaken the minimal, humane-washing changes it proposes. Going to the U.S. Federal Register Website, “Drafting Legal Documents / Principles of Clear Writing / Section 3” you will see they believe it correct to, “use ‘must’ instead of ‘shall’” because: “shall imposes an obligation to act, but may be confused with prediction of future action” while “must imposes obligation, indicates a necessity to act”. The plain English use of “must” in the 2012 bill is obvious when compared to “shall” in the 2013 bill. That change must be opposed along with the bill.
Fourth, cruel practices will continue under this bill: burning off the sensitive tips of beaks ensures a lifetime of pain and suffering—in addition to disabling the hens’ ability to groom their feathers and pick off lice; the wholesale slaughter of male chicks at birth, often by suffocation or grinding while alive, will continue because they do not lay eggs; female chicks will never experience the enriched experience of bonding with a mother hen; the maximum space allowed in caged confinement when the bill is fully implemented in 2029 is one square foot for the larger brown variety of hens; yet the overwhelming number of hens used in the US egg industry are the smaller white leghorn variety. They will theoretically receive a maximum of only 124 square inches per hen, or fourteen percent less than one square foot. After enduring this bill’s impacts, not a single hen will be spared from a life of deprivation before slaughter.
Fifth, there are no criminal penalties for violating the provisions of this bill. If the Secretary of Agriculture finds noncompliance, he submits reports to various committees. Eggs without carton labels describing how the hens were raised “shall” not be part of commerce. Eggs coming from covered sources that do not provide the “enrichment” and tiny space allocations less than those as scheduled in the Act as amended by H.R. 1731 are prohibited from commerce. But, again, there are no provisions for penalties, confiscations, fines, or any other impediment that would stop that commerce even after a notice, if any, was given.
Sixth, these amendments apply to egg-laying hens, but the Act they are being appended to is about egg handling and grading to maintain public health. We do not see any specific provisions that hen cages can be inspected and reported, only the facilities where eggs are “handled”. In addition, there are no appropriations to pay for the compliance inspections, reporting, and enforcement, if any.
Seventh, H.R. 1731 does not include over 56 million commercial egg-laying hens who are “in production” in any given month. This is multiplied over the course of every year as the egg-laying hens are killed and replaced when productivity declines. “All layers in the United States on April 1, 2013 totaled 348 million…. The 348 million layers consisted of 292 million layers producing table or market type eggs, 53.0 million layers producing broiler-type hatching eggs, and 3.11 million layers producing egg-type hatching eggs.” (USDA, Cornell, 2013). S.802 only covers table eggs. In addition, all flocks of less than 3,000 hens are excluded from this bill. Why should any hen be denied consideration by the proponents of the ill-conceived H.R. 1731?
Eighth, this bill does not protect human workers or hens from ammonia. The 2012 amendments allowed 25 ppm of ammonia in the air in egg-layer housing but the 2013 version adds an allowance for temporary increases for unusual conditions. At 25ppm, “Marked eye, skin, and respiratory irritation” occurs in humans. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL). However, “temporary” is not defined in the proposed legislation regarding permissible ammonia levels over 25ppm and is therefore of unspecified duration. How long is “temporary” and what are “unusual conditions”?
Chickens exposed to 20 parts per million of ammonia for 42 days are susceptible to pulmonary congestion, swelling, and hemorrhage. Studies documenting the destructive effects of atmospheric ammonia on chickens and turkeys are referenced in: Carlile, Fiona S. 1984. Ammonia in Poultry Houses: A Literature Review. World’s Poultry Science Journal 40: 99-113.
Ammonia is not the only toxic gas in the chicken houses, and these other toxic gases are not addressed in the proposed legislation: nitrous oxide, CO2, hydrogen sulfide, methane. Chickens need three times more air volume than humans per kilogram of body weight to meet their oxygen requirements. The toxic gases in the houses added to the airborne debris (feathers, dander, organic dust, insecticides, microbes) are as cruel as cages. This toxic waste environment is also detrimental to ecosystems and contributes to global warming.
Congressman McDermott, we ask you to make certain this bill does not pass out of committee, and should it progress to the House and Senate conference committee for resolution, please oppose it there. Remember those of us who are dedicated to ending the real suffering of the hens NOT covered by these amendments. If H.R. 1731 passes, we will be denied our advocacy and hope for ending animal abuse. We, your constituents, and national organizations who specialize in chickens and farmed animal advocacy, oppose it.
Please oppose and defeat H.R. 1731.
Rachel Bjork, Board President
Northwest Animal Rights Network
1037 NE 65th St #174
Seattle, WA 98115
Dave Bemel, President
Action for Animals
P.O. Box 45843
Seattle, WA 98145