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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Table Egg Production and Hen Welfare: Agreement and Legislative Proposals

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. As part of the agreement, HSUS agreed to immediately suspend state-level ballot initiative efforts in Oregon and Washington.

During the 112
th Congress, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798) was introduced in the House in January 2012. In May 2012, a companion bill, S. 3239, was introduced in the Senate. The provisions in the bills were the same, and reflected the agreement between UEP and HSUS to establish uniform, national cage size requirements for table egglaying hens. The bills would have codified national standards for laying-hen housing over an 18- year phase-in period, included labeling requirements to disclose how eggs were produced, and set air quality, molting, and euthanasia standards for laying hens.

The agreement and legislation were a marked shift in direction for both UEP and HSUS. UEP viewed H.R. 3798 as being in the long-term interest and survival of American egg farmers. Egg producers would benefit from national egg standards that halted 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 and S. 3239 were endorsed by a wide range of agricultural, veterinary, consumer, and animal protection groups.

Farm group opponents criticized H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 for several reasons. First, they were concerned that the bills federally mandated management practices for farm animals, something that had not been done in the past. These groups argued that the bills could set a precedent, paving the way for future legislation on animal welfare for the livestock and poultry industries. Opponents held the view that the cage requirements were not science-based, and undermined long-standing views that animal husbandry practices should be based on the best available science. They also argued that codifying cage standards today ignores innovations that could appear in the future. Additionally, opponents were concerned that the capital cost of transitioning to enriched cages would 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. The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on S. 3239 on 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 to H.R. 6083 was adopted that would have prohibited states from enforcing their production or manufacturing standards for agricultural products on agricultural products from other states.

The provisions that were in H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 are expected to be reintroduced in the 113
th Congress, and both UEP and HSUS will advocate for passage. Egg legislation could again become part of the omnibus farm bill debate during the year.

Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42534
Price: $29.95

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