By MATTHEW D. ERNST
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2013 Egg Products Inspection Act, widely known as the “Egg Bill,” is not included in the Senate farm bill released for markup last week. It was the latest tussle over the Egg Bill, supported by the United Egg Producers (UEP), but opposed by many others in the farm lobby.
“The fact that Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would even consider starting the discussion on a new farm bill by including legislation initiated and advocated for by extremist organizations is a slap in the face to American farm families,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.
Such criticism of the Egg Bill seems rooted in its origin as an agreement between the UEP, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Egg producers were spurred to begin discussions with HSUS after passage of a California statute that will mandate all eggs sold in California to be produced in facilities about 75 percent larger than current commercial egg industry standards.
Other states, including Michigan, have recent or forthcoming standards for egg production. The UEP, representing nearly 90 percent of U.S. egg production, fears conflicting state laws will scramble interstate egg standards.
“Without this federal legislation, the patchwork quilt of half-a-dozen conflicting and contradictory state laws about egg production and sales that have been enacted over the past few years will begin to take affect, and the result will be complete chaos for farmers, for grocers, for food companies and for consumers,” said Chad Gregory, UEP president.
But allowing federal legislation to regulate animal production practices is stiffly opposed by other farm groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. (NCBA).
“NCBA is pleased that the Senate Agriculture Committee decided to not include the HSUS/UEP legislation in the farm bill,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs. He said allowing the federal government to mandate on-farm production practices “is unacceptable.”
Livestock groups have also long been uneasy over HSUS involvement in crafting the Egg Bill. In a May 3 update, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) referred members to its past comments on the proposal.
“This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals,” said past NPPC President Doug Wolf in January 2012, when last year’s version of the Egg Bill was introduced. “We don’t need or want the federal government and HSUS telling us how to do our jobs.”
While Michigan’s Stabenow has indicated she will not introduce the Egg Bill as an amendment in committee, the legislation could be introduced by other committee members or as an amendment during debate on the Senate floor. The fate of the Egg Bill in the House is also unclear, but Woodall anticipates further wrangling.
“We do expect this issue to still come up. This is not the end of it, and this is still very much a real threat to all of us in livestock production,” he said.
That sentiment sharply contrasts with the perspective of the UEP.
“Our farmers are still overwhelmingly supportive of the Egg Bill, and we desperately need it to preserve our family farms and the free flow of eggs through interstate commerce,” said UEP President Chad Gregory. “We are still hopeful that Congress will find a way to support us.”