[UPDATE: On June 18, 2012, this bill was struck down in the Senate, so for now, it is off the table]
On January 23rd, a bill was introduced to the 112th Congress that aims to establish a national standard of welfare for egg-laying hens. The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 attempts for the first time to codify housing and treatment standards for chickens raised for egg production on a federal level. This bill was written collaboratively by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP), an industry trade group representing farmers and companies involved with egg production, marketing, and selling.
After careful consideration of this bill, we at NARN had in the beginning of February taken the official position in opposition to it. We had found the bill as it is currently written very troubling. It codifies the use of cages, and would deny state legislatures the ability to enact laws to outlaw cages or otherwise regulate egg factory conditions, deprive voters of the right and ability to pass ballot measures banning cages, and nullify existing state laws that ban or restrict battery cages (including California’s Proposition 2).
In this bill, the egg industry merely agrees to slowly – at the glacial pace of 15 to 18 years – continue the meager changes in battery cage conditions that are already occurring due to state laws and public pressure. This bill will establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote. Rather than being “a step in the right direction,” this bill is a dead-end for the future of hens kept for egg-production. This bill would keep hens forever suffering in small cages, where they could never engage in the many natural behaviors essential for their most basic health and well being.
Hens in so-called "colony cages"
While many animal advocacy groups are in support of this bill, we are among growing number of other groups and activists who see as problematic the collaboration with an industry that views living sentient beings as mere commodities to be used and abused for economic gain. We do not agree that industry should be allowed to write their own rules and regulations.
Please contact your members of Congress to stop industry from writing their own rules and circumventing the progress being made to ban the use of cages. Our state laws and voting rights must not be given away.
If you live in Washington State, contact your Representative in your district to oppose H.R. 3798 and contact your Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to oppose S.B. 3239 (Those outside of Washington state can use the following links to find their Senators and House Representatives).
“Colony cages", that this bill would codify, allows around 8 hens to be crowded into a cage the size of a file cabinet drawer.
Statement from United Poultry Concerns (UPC):
It is incorrect to say that the proposed federal legislation would eliminate battery cages. Batteries consist of rows and tiers of identical units; in this case the units are cages. The proposed legislation will enshrine battery cages, not eliminate them. Egg-laying hens will be locked inside windowless buildings, crammed in cages stacked from the floor and lined up in long rows, just as they are now. Tiny furnishings, including plastic strips, falsely called “nests,” are being prettified as “colonies” and “enrichments.” This vocabulary makes people feel good, but it is bad for birds whose legs and wings are designed to run, walk, perch and be physically active, not rot in cages.
After decades of humane efforts in the US and Europe to get hens out of cages, a law that ensures they’ll never get out is being hailed as a victory for hens and “animal rights.” But it isn’t. If people knew the truth of the egg industry and how hens are actually treated behind the scenes, they would be sickened. We do not need to eat their eggs to be healthy.
Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns
A Veterinarian’s Perspective on The Rotten Egg Bill
Battery cages are the most unhealthful and distressing means of keeping hens for egg production. Disease conditions such as “cage layer fatigue” and bone fractures due to lack of exercise are major medical issues and are associated with physical pain and suffering.
These are due largely to a lack of meaningful exercise such as flying and running. Depriving hens of important behaviors such as dust bathing or perching well above floor level, a quiet place to lay eggs, proper and adequate exercise, and the opportunity to form social groups of their choosing all have a major negative impact on their quality of life.
The increase in cage size dictated by the proposed legislation, unfortunately, will have no meaningful positive impact on these issues. Hens will still not be able to get proper exercise, they still will be too crowded to even properly stretch their wings, perches will be at an ineffectual height, and nest boxes will not be conducive to the needs for laying eggs.
What the proposed legislation will do, however, is keep the confinement of hens in cages legal, something that no humane-minded individual should accept.
The cages defined by the legislation will in no meaningful way reduce the unimaginable suffering endured by the hens but will be used by the industry as a means of defending this indefensible practice.
Even if this legislation passes without amendments, the situation would be worse for the hens because it would be setting a disastrous precedent; battery cages would be codified in federal law.
I urge people not to support this legislation: it is intolerable for the hens and will be obstructive to getting any meaningful reform in the future. The only tolerable “step in the right direction” is to insist on getting rid of the cages entirely.
Nedim C. Buyukmihci, V.M.D.
Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Medicine, University of California
Further information about the bill can be found here.