By MATTHEW D. ERNST
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Attendees at the Egg Industry Issues Forum here in April were told the “Egg Bill” would be reintroduced in Congress before the end of the month. That happened last Thursday, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) submitted the Egg Products Inspection Acts Amendments of 2013.
“This bill is the product of an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP), which represent 88 percent of the nation’s egg industry,” said Feinstein. “It addresses a patchwork of divergent state laws by establishing a national standard for the humane treatment of egg-laying hens.”
In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, a measure requiring any eggs sold in California by 2015 to come from hens kept in cages large enough to allow them to extend their wings. Feinstein noted new egg production standards in at least four other states, including Michigan and Ohio, are set to take effect in coming years.
Egg producers say different production standards among states could scramble the U.S. egg industry.
“We desperately need a federal statute that establishes one national standard of egg production, because the current myriad state legislation threatens to eliminate interstate egg commerce, destroying our businesses and potentially leading to egg shortages and consumer price spikes in many states,” said Chad Gregory, UEP president.
According to UEP, the 2013 bill is nearly identical to bills introduced last year. The Egg Bill requires conventional egg cages, currently allowing up to 67 square inches of space per hen, to be replaced with “enriched colony” systems that allow a minimum of 124 square inches for white egg-laying hens and 144 for brown egg-laying hens.
The bill requires producers outside California to incrementally increase the space hens are given during the next 15-16 years. California producers are given less time for facility changes, consistent with the language of Prop. 2.
The Egg Bill also requires certain “environmental enrichments,” such as perches, for egg-laying hens. Further, all cartons of eggs sold in the United States will need to be labeled as “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens” and “eggs from free-range hens.”
Egg companies with fewer than 3,000 layers are exempt from the language of the bill. Educational and research institutions are also exempted in the 2013 bill.
The agreement between UEP and HSUS that led to the bill is unique. Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president, said, “The HSUS and UEP have been longtime adversaries, but have come together and identified a solution that balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry.”
The coming together of former foes created apparent unease about the Egg Bill last year among animal agriculture groups, including the National Pork Producers Council and National Cattleman’s Beef Assoc. Opposition from agriculture groups, and from animal welfare groups opposed to any form of caging, was reportedly the reason the 2012 Egg Bill did not receive a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee.
The Humane Farming Assoc., a California animal advocacy group opposed to caged egg production, immediately expressed opposition to Feinstein’s bill. Responses to the bill’s reintroduction from animal agriculture groups were not immediately available.
Gregory said this year’s bill contains a minor addition clarifying its focus, stating: “This section shall apply only to commercial egg production. This section shall not apply to the production of pork, beef, turkey, dairy, broiler chicken, veal or other livestock or poultry.”
“This is about eggs,” he said in remarks at the Egg Industry Issues Forum. “(The bill) is what egg farmers want and need, it’s what egg farmers have written and it’s what egg farmers are delivering to Congress so that egg farmers hopefully have a sustainable future. It has nothing to do with any other species.”
Feinstein’s Senate bill is cosponsored by Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) introduced the Egg Bill in the House.