WASHINGTON, November 6, 2013—The egg industry and animal welfare groups recently worked out a compromise regarding egg production standards. The proposed legislation, resulting from a joint effort by traditional opponents, stands as an example in cooperation and compromise that many in Washington should take a cue from.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Representatives Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Mike Fitzpatrick, (R-PA), introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 (Amendments). The legislation endorses a historic agreement reached by animal welfare groups and the egg industry.
“The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) have been long-time adversaries, but have come together and identified a solution that balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry,” stated HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle in a statement. “The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace an agreement between all of the key stakeholders.”
Replacing the patchwork quilt of differing and sometimes contradictory state laws, the legislation would set minimum national standards for egg production and hen housing by requiring egg producers to phase in “enriched colony housing” that would replace conventional cages and provide each hen with approximately twice the space they have now. The legislation also requires phasing in additional enrichments including perches, scratch pads and nesting boxes that allow hens to display natural behaviors.
If passed, the Amendments would also mandate nationwide labeling identifying the method of egg production (“eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” and “eggs from free-range hens”). The phase-in period for most of the provisions is between 15 to 16 years, giving egg producers ample time to meet the new standards.
“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 UEP President Chad Gregory in a statement. This would create a major hardship for millions of low- and middle-income consumers.”
While it is not a law that mandates that all hens are cage-free, which is what animal welfare groups aspire to, it is easy to see why the legislation is supported by organizations like HSUS, and the ASPCA because it represents an improvement in the lives of hundreds of millions of birds.
However, a large majority of egg producers also back the legislation.
For one thing, the Amendments would put an end to the dissimilar and often opposing collection of state laws currently in place, allowing egg farmers and producers to ensure that they can sell their product on the national market.
“This proposed legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices, and that farmers have a level playing field in all 50 states,” said David Lathem, UEP chairman and second-generation egg farmer in a statement.
Additionally, the new legislation would have a moderate impact on consumer prices. According to the UEP website, a study conducted by Argalytica, an independent research group, prices to consumers are expected to rise by less than one cent per egg.
The legislation has several critics, the most enthusiastic being the meat and dairy industries, fearing welfare laws passed regarding egg production will open the door to regulation of their products. However, supporters of the Amendments see these fears as unfounded because the amendments apply only to the egg industry.
The bill is currently assigned to a congressional committee for consideration on whether to send it to the House or Senate as a whole. The bill can be tracked through govtrack.us.
In the end neither group got everything they wanted. However, both groups were able to sit down, have a conversation, find common ground, and move forward to produce a workable piece of legislation that moves everybody’s interests toward their individual—and sometimes apparently contradictory—goals.
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