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Wednesday, July 17, 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.

On April 25, 2013, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 (S. 820 and H.R. 1731) were introduced in the 113
th Congress. The bills are nearly identical to the legislation that was introduced during the 112th Congress (S. 3239 and H.R. 3798). The provisions in S. 820 and H.R. 1731 reflect the 2011 agreement between UEP and HSUS to establish uniform, national cage size requirements for table egg-laying hens. The bills would codify national standards for laying-hen housing over a 15- to 16-year phase-in period, including labeling requirements to disclose how eggs are produced, and set air quality, molting, and euthanasia standards for laying hens.

Compared with the bills from the 112
th Congress, S. 820 and H.R. 1731 add provisions specific to California that establish deadlines based on whether or not cages are new or existing, and add a four-step phase-in period for California producers. The legislation also requires that any eggs bought or sold in California meet the California requirements in the legislation, no matter where the eggs are produced.

The agreement and legislation were a marked shift in direction for both UEP and HSUS. UEP views the legislation as being in the long-term survival interest of American egg farmers. It says that egg producers would benefit from national egg standards that 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. Egg legislation has been endorsed by a wide range of agricultural, veterinary, consumer, and animal protection groups.

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

UEP and HSUS and other supporters favor moving egg legislation forward through the farm bill process, but other livestock groups strongly oppose this legislative route. Reportedly, S. 820 was considered for inclusion in the Senate Agriculture Committee 2013 farm bill draft, but it was not included. Senator Feinstein’s submitted egg bill amendment (S.Amdt. 1057) was not considered during the Senate farm bill (S. 954) floor debate. The House-reported farm bill (H.R. 1947) does

not include egg legislation, but it does include an amendment (Section 12314) that prohibits states from imposing standards on agricultural products produced in other states.

Date of Report: June 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R42534
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