Federal laying hen standards bill goes before Congress

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2012:

Federal laying hen standards bill goes before Congress

WASHINGTON D.C.–Awaited for seven months,  a proposed federal law governing the care of laying hens was on January 23,  2012 introduced by Oregon Member of the House of Representatives Kurt Schrader.  Assigned bill number HR 3798,  the draft legislation results from a July 2011 pact between the Humane Society of the U.S. and United Egg Producers,  the largest trade association representing U.S. egg farmers.  Under the agreement,  HSUS withdrew ballot initiative campaigns seeking laying hen standards in Washington and Oregon,  in exchange for UEP collaboration in pursuit of a weaker federal standard which would govern the entire U.S. laying hen industry.

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Structurally,  HR 3798 would amend the Egg Products Inspection Act of 1970,  last amended in 1998.  Added would be requirements for egg labeling to accurately describe the conditions under which the eggs were produced, for “adequate environmental enrichments” in laying hen cages,   and for a gradual phase-in of new space requirements of 124 square inches for white laying hens,  and 144 square inches for brown laying hens,  who are somewhat larger.

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To be fully implemented by 2029,  the new space requirement would give each hen nearly twice as much room as now to move about, including the now precluded opportunity to stretch her wings.

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“The term ‘adequate environmental enrichments’ means adequate perch space,  dust bathing or scratching areas,  and nest space,  as defined by the Secretary of Agriculture,  based on the best available science,  including the most recent studies available at the time that the Secretary defines the term,”  stipulates HR 3798.  “The Secretary shall issue regulations defining this term not later than January 1, 2017,”  HR 3798 adds.  “The final regulations shall go into effect on December 31,  2018.”

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Continues HR 3798,  “The term ‘adequate housing-related labeling’ means a conspicuous, legible marking on the front or top of a package of eggs accurately indicating the type of housing that the egg-laying hens were provided during egg production.”  Options allowed include “Eggs from free-range hens,”  “Eggs from cage-free hens,” “Eggs from enriched cages,”  and “Eggs from caged hens.”  The specific requirements to use each labeling phrase are spelled out.

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18-year phase-in

Much of HR 3798 defines the phase-in time for new laying hen space and cage enrichment requirements.  HR 3798 allows laying hens to be housed at the present typical battery cage densities of 76 square inches of floor space for brown hens and 67 square inches for white hens for 15 years after passage.

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However,   after six years “at least 25% of the egg-laying hens in commercial egg production shall be housed with a minimum of 102 square inches of individual floor space per brown hen and 90 square inches of individual floor space per white hen.”

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After 12 years,  “at least 55% of the egg-laying hens in commercial egg production shall be housedŠwith a minimum of 130 square inches of individual floor space per brown hen and 113 square inches of individual floor space per white hen.”  Conversion of caging to the final standard of 144 square inches of floor space per brown hen and 124 square inches per white hen is to be completed by December 31, 2029.
“Adequate environmental enrichments” are to be introduced in phases of nine and 15 years, with completion also due by December 31, 2029. If the egg industry as a whole fails to meet the phase-in targets,  the time allowed for older egg barns to meet the standards prescribed by HR 3798 is to be reduced.  The enforcement authority is delegated to the Secretary of Agriculture. Unclear,  however,  is whether the Secretary of Agriculture could in effect hold some egg producers accountable for the failures of others.

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State laws blocked

The most controversial aspect of HR 3798 among animal advocates may be a stipulation that, “Requirements within the scope of this chapter with respect to minimum floor space allotments or enrichments for egg-laying hens housed in commercial egg production which are in addition to or different than those made under this chapter may not be imposed by any state or local jurisdiction.”  This clause precludes further use of ballot initiatives,  such as Proposition Two passed in California in 2008 and the initiatives that HSUS withdrew in Oregon and Washington in 2011,  to change laying hen housing standards.

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HR 3798 addresses two longstanding humane concerns with passages stating that,  beginning two years after passage,  “no egg handler may subject any egg-laying henŠto feed-withdrawal or water-withdrawal molting,”  and that “an egg handler shall provide, when necessary,  all egg-laying hens under his ownership or control with euthanasia that is humane and uses a method deemed ‘Acceptable’ by the American Veterinary Medical Association.”

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Egg farms have long starved hens to induce forced molts,  a practice which metabolically simulates winter and causes the hens to produce more eggs when they are again fed,  metabolically simulating spring.  This practice weakens the hens’ immune systems, increasing the risk that they will contract and transmit bacterial diseases such as salmonella, and has been disapproved by the AVMA since 2004.

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“Spent hens” and unwanted male chicks have often been killed by compaction and suffocation,  including live burial,  which is not approved by the AVMA,  or by high-speed maceration,  which is approved.  Macer-ated remains are usually processed into fertilizer or feed for pigs,  cattle,  and other poultry.

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HR 3798 exempts producers who buy,  sell, handle,  or process “eggs or egg products solely from one flock of not more than 3,000 egg-laying hens.”  This phrasing might allow egg farmers to structure their operations so that each barn of 3,000 hens is technically a separate business, owned by a holding company which would not be an “egg handler” by reason of not being directly the egg producer or marketer.

Humane perspectives

Titled “Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012,”  HR 3798 attracted just five cosponsors within two weeks of introduction: Democrats Sam Farr and Elton Gallegly of California,  Chellie Pingree of Maine,  and Adam Smith of Washington,  plus Republican Jeff Denham of California.

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Endorsements,  besides those of HSUS and United Egg Producers,  came from the American SPCA,  Animal Legal Defense Fund,  Compassion in World Farming, Compassion Over Killing,  Farm Sanctuary,  In Defense of Animals,  The Humane League,  Mercy For Animals,  and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

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HR 3798 is opposed from two different directions–by most agribusiness fronts other than UEP,  and by United Poultry Concerns and the Humane Farming Association,  whose statement was also posted by Friends of Animals.

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Alleged Humane Farming Association national director Brad Miller,  “‘Enriched cages’ is a grossly deceptive and fraudulent term that we should all vigorously oppose.   Outlawing battery cages is the only way to get rid of them.”  If HR 3798 passes,  Miller said, “Neither we,  nor the next generation of activists,  will ever be able to pass state laws to outlaw egg factory cages,  even if doing so has the support of 100% of the electorate.”

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In drafting HR 3798,  Miller charged, “The egg industry merely agreed to slowly continue the meager changes in battery cage conditions that are already occurring due to state laws and public pressure.”
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Proposition Two

Miller also alleged that HR 3798,  if passed,  will roll back the requirement of California Proposition Two that laying hens be able to stand up,  lie down,  turn around,  and fully extend their limbs.  HSUS during the Proposition Two ballot measure campaign interpreted this to mean that laying hens must be kept in cage-free environments.

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But the American Humane Association in June 2010 announced a deal with the egg producer J.S. West,  of Modesto,  California,  which holds that Proposition Two allows the use of “enriched” cages like those that have been required in the European Union since the start of 2012,  in place of traditional battery caging.  The talks between HSUS and UEP that led to the introduction of HR 3798  “started after HSUS said it recognized that there were benefits” to “enriched” colony caging, reported Rod Smith of the agribusiness trade journal Feedstuffs after HSUS and UEP agreed in July 2011 to draft the bill.

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“From the moment the UEP/HSUS agreement was announced,”  said Miller,  “HSUS promised that the bill would preserve the requirements of Proposition Two.”

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Language specific to Proposition Two is included in HR 3798,  but  “Proposition Two,  as well as every other relevant state law,  would be preempted!” Miller assessed.

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Chris Huckleberry,  legislative director for HR 3798 author Representative Schrader, affirmed Miller’s view to Dan Wheat of Capital Press.  Wrote Wheat,  “The Humane Farming Association said the bill nullifies existing state laws that ban or restrict battery cages, deprives voters of the right and ability to pass ballot measures banning cages,  and denies state legislatures the ability to enact laws preventing cruelty to laying hens [in standard agricultural practices].  Those points are all true,  said Huckleberry.”

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“The whole idea is federal standards for consistency for animal welfare and to allow farmers to maintain their business models,” Huckleberry told Wheat.
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HSUS responds

Responded HSUS president Wayne Pacelle to ANIMAL PEOPLE,   “How Proposition Two will be applied by state officials is still undecided. The industry–and its allies in the California government–are arguing that it means far less space than what this national standard would be. There is a real question,”  Pacelle said,  “as to whether Proposition Two will be watered down by hostile state agricultural officials.  That pains us,  since HSUS spent multiple millions on the campaign and I devoted my whole life to the campaign for nearly two years,  but it’s reality.

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“As to setting a national standard for space,”  Pacelle continued,  “it’s important to avoid the illusion that states are lining up to ban cages for laying hens.  The vast majority of U.S. egg-laying hens live in states where we have no pathway to provide them with any legal protection whatsoever,  i.e.,  there is no ballot measure option [permitted by the state constitutions] and little political will among lawmakers in those states [to regulate poultry caging].  If anything,  these big egg production states,  e.g., Iowa,  Indiana,  Minnesota, Pennsylvania,  et al,  are more likely to ban investigations of factory farms rather than cages on factory farms.

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“While Proposition Two dealt only with a space standard for hens,”  Pacelle pointed out, HR 3798 offers “a more comprehensive policy for hen welfare.  This legislation offers the opportunity,”  Pacelle said,  “not just to help millions of birds in one state,  but hundreds of millions of birds in all 50 states,  in one fell swoop,  including big egg production states where we are very unlikely to be able to provide any relief at all for hens otherwise.”
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Agribusiness

United Egg Producers “are lobbying the bill on the ground,  are responsible for getting the sponsors of the bill so far,  and are getting more,” said HSUS factory farm campaign manager Paul Shapiro.  “Of course,  the rest of the agribusiness lobby is working hard to ensure it doesn’t happen,”  Shapiro conceded.

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Opposing HR 3798 are the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association,  Egg Farmers of America,  National Cattlemen’s Beef Associ-ation,  National Farmers Union,  National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council,  and National Turkey Federation.

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“This legislation could create a very slippery slope to allow bureaucrats in Washington,  D.C., to tell farmers and ranchers how to raise their animals,”  said NCBA executive director of legislative affairs Kristina Butts.

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The combination of agribusiness opposition and an anti-regulatory Republican majority in the House of Representatives may keep HR 3798 from advancing far in 2012.  The agreement between HSUS and UEP established only a one-year partnership.  But few federal animal welfare bills have ever advanced rapidly after first introduction,  and the fall 2012 U.S. national election could rearrange Congress in a manner more favorable to the passage of national standards for keeping laying hens–if not necessarily more favorable to the hens. –MC

Merritt Clifton
Editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE
P.O. Box 960 | Clinton, WA 98236
Telephone: 360-579-2505
Cell: 360-969-0450
Fax: 360-579-2575
E-mail: anmlpepl@whidbey.com
Web: www.animalpeoplenews.org

 

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This entry was posted in ACTIVISTS, ANIMAL BUSINESS, ANIMAL CRUELTY, ANIMAL DEFENSE ORGS, MARCH 2012. Bookmark the permalink.