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Friday, August 3, 2012

Table Egg Production and Hen Welfare: The UEP-HSUS Agreement, H.R. 3798, and S. 3239

Joel L. Greene
Analyst in Agricultural Policy

Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

The United Egg Producers (UEP), the largest group representing egg producers, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest animal protection group, have been adversaries for many years over the use of conventional cages in table egg production. In July 2011, the animal agriculture community was stunned when the UEP and HSUS announced that they had agreed to work together to push for federal legislation to regulate how U.S. table eggs are produced. The agreement between UEP and HSUS called for federal legislation that would set cage sizes, establish labeling requirements, and regulate other production practices. The goal of the agreement was to have federal legislation in place by June 30, 2012. As part of the agreement, HSUS agreed to immediately suspend state-level ballot initiative efforts in Oregon and Washington.

On January 23, 2012, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798) was introduced in the House, and on May 24, 2012, a companion bill, S. 3239, was introduced in the Senate. The provisions in the bills are the same, and reflect the negotiations between UEP and HSUS and their agreement of July 2011 to establish uniform, national cage size requirements for table egg-laying hens by adding national standards for laying-hen housing over an 18-year phasein period. The bill also includes labeling requirements to disclose how eggs are produced, and air quality, molting, and euthanasia standards for laying hens.

The agreement and legislation is a marked shift in direction for both UEP and HSUS. UEP views H.R. 3798 as being in the long-term interest and survival of American egg farmers. Egg producers would benefit from national egg standards because they would halt costly state-by-state battles over caged eggs that result in a variety of laws across the country. For HSUS, which has actively campaigned for cage-free egg production, accepting enriched cages was a compromise, but one that could result in significant federal farm animal welfare legislation. H.R. 3798 has been endorsed by a wide range of agricultural, veterinary, consumer, and animal protection groups.

Farm group opponents of H.R. 3798 have criticized it for several reasons. First, they are concerned that it federally legislates management practices for farm animals, something that has not been done in the past. These groups argue that it could set a precedent, paving the way for legislation on animal welfare for the livestock and poultry industries in future legislation. Those opposed to H.R. 3798 also hold the view that the cage requirements in H.R. 3798 are not sciencebased, and undermine long-standing views that animal husbandry practices should be based on the best available science. Opponents also argue that codifying cage standards today ignores innovations that could appear in the future. Last, opponents are concerned that the capital cost of transitioning to enriched cages will be high, and could be prohibitive for small producers.

S. 3239 was initially offered as an amendment to the Senate’s proposed 2012 farm bill (S. 3240), but was withdrawn and not debated during floor consideration. Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee scheduled a hearing on S. 3239 for July 26, 2012. H.R. 3798 was not offered as an amendment during the House Agriculture Committee’s markup of the 2012 farm bill (H.R. 6083). However, an amendment was adopted during the committee markup that would prohibit states from setting production or manufacturing standards for agricultural products, and then enforcing those standards on agricultural products from other states. This amendment specifically targets California’s law that will prohibit the sale of eggs from caged hens, from any state, beginning January 1, 2015. This has prompted debate on the effects this amendment would have on other state agricultural laws.

Date of Report: July 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R42534
Price: $29.95

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