The United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have decided to collaborate in order to enact new federal legislation that will affect the 280 million egg-laying hens that produce eggs in the United States. This would be the first federal legislation of its kind to address the treatment of animals on farms.
Bob Krouse, a farmer in Indiana and chairman of UEP, commented in a press statement, “America’s egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers. We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers.”
The legislation proposes the following nationwide changes in egg production:
Egg industry producers will invest $4 billion over the next 15 to 18 years to see that new “enriched housing systems” will take the place of conventional cages (in which 90 percent of hens are currently raised) via a phase-in period. Such housing will provide every hen double the space that current conventional cages offer. Most hens now live in an average of 67 square inches of space and that number will increase to a minimum of 124-144 square inches of space under the proposed legislation.
This enriched housing will be required to provide an environment where hens are able to express their natural behavior including perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas. Excessive ammonia levels will also be prohibited in henhouses.
Enhanced Labeling Requirements
All labeling on eggs will have to specifically state for consumers what methods were used in egg production designating one of the following terms: eggs from caged hens, eggs from hens in enriched cages, eggs from cage-free hens or eggs from free-range hens. More detailed labeling is something more consumers are demanding and hopefully the legislation will somehow address educating consumers about what exactly all of these different terms mean so they can make the most informed decision possible at the grocery store.
Humane Raising & Euthanasia
While most egg producers already follow this rule (one which UEP’s Certified program already has on the books), this ballot initiative would strictly prohibit the practice of feed-or water- withholding molting in order to extend the laying cycle. Lastly, as for hen euthanasia, the law would put into place the standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The sale of eggs and egg products which do not meet the aforementioned criteria will be prohibited. As this is a federal ballot measure, it will thus suspend ballot measures in Washington and Oregon addressing the same issue.
Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.