A bipartisan group of Representatives has proposed a bill aiming to standardize improved conditions for egg laying hens across the country, in an effort to avoid a patchwork of state laws.
The proposed legislation, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, aims to formalize an agreement reached by the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers (UEP) last July, to establish a nationwide standard for cage sizes and enriched housing for egg laying hens. The UEP says it represents egg farmers who own about 95% of egg laying hens in the United States.
Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced the bill this week with bipartisan support, saying that codifying the agreement would bring order to the industry as it faces a spate of state-specific initiatives.
"The agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States represents an important and necessary step in addressing the patchwork of state laws facing the industry and providing stability for farmers moving forward, " said Schrader. "I take my hat off to both organizations for putting aside their historical differences and working together to reach a deal that provides certainty for our farmers while providing improved conditions for the hens.”
The bill would require animal welfare improvements nationwide for hens, increasing the minimum required housing space required per bird gradually over the next 15-18 years, as suggested under the UEP/Humane Society agreement.
Battery cages are still the most common form of egg production in the United States, where the UEP and the Humane Society have agreed to phase in a recommendation for cage size of 124-144 square inches. Currently, the UEP’s recommendation is 67 to 86 square inches per bird, and it says the majority receives 67 square inches – smaller than an A4 sheet of paper – although about 50m birds still have just 48 square inches.
The practice has come in for criticism from animal welfare groups, as hens are unable to spread their wings in such confined space.
Cage-free hens do not necessarily have access to outside space, but they are able to walk and spread their wings, and systems are third-party certified to ensure that animals have access to perching and dust-bathing facilities.
According to Rep. Schrader, among other standards, the bill would require the phase-in of larger cages; require enriched environments after the phase-in period, such as perches and scratching areas; require labeling on egg cartons to advise consumers of the method used to produce eggs; and prohibit the sale and transport of eggs that do not meet requirements.