The Rotten Egg Bill
The Egg Bill
In a surprising collaboration between United Egg Producers (UEP), which represents 88% of the US egg industry, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a long time opponent of animal caging, proposed amendments to the Egg Products Inspection Act (a.k.a. the Egg Bill) in the upcoming Farm Bill would see that “enriched cages” become a national standard for egg producing farms. This new standard would supersede any state or local laws that ban cages on egg farms, such as California’s Standards for Confining Farm Animals Initiative (Proposition 2), and would prohibit this standard from being changed by state law or by public vote.
Right now, you have a situation where people can work through the polls or work through their state legislature and pass a law that either says that hens have to be raised in cage free conditions or that say they have to be given x amount of space. With the passage of the rotten egg bill, that right that we all have right now, would be taken away.
—Bradley Miller, National Director of the Humane Farming Association (HFA)
In no definitive wording, the UEP describes the “enrichments” of this multiple-bird housing system in an attempt to distinguish it from the run-of-the-mill battery cage:
“An enriched cage has “enrichments” such as perches, a curtained off area for hens to lay their eggs, and a scratch area. These enrichments allow hens to perform some of their natural behaviors. Enriched cages also typically provide each hen with nearly twice the amount of space than a conventional cage.”
Surely these hens will be pleased to be allowed to exhibit some of their natural behaviors as well as have the assurance that they will typically be allotted more space than before.
Mr Miller commented that there is little in the bill which actually specifies what these required “enrichments” must be. “All it says is that some future USDA secretary, all of whom have been controlled by the industry itself, will determine what constitutes the so called ‘adequate, environmental enrichments.’ ”
The Egg Bill allows for an 18 year phase-in period for the enriched cages, meaning that many farmers will be exempt from changing to the new caging system for almost two decades. Mr Miller was concerned that even after 18 years, amendments could be made to the bill that would extend this period even further.
The alliance between the HSUS and the UEP is unexpected, not just because the HSUS has a long history of advocating against the caging of any animal and has urged consumers not to buy from farms who cage their birds, but because the HSUS has previously filed a legal petition asking for civil and criminal penalties to be brought down on the UEP and other major egg producing corporations for alleged price fixing.
A statement made by the HSUS on its web page regarding the petition, reads: “The United Egg Producers (UEP), the industry trade group responsible for the certification program, has a history of misleading consumers about the treatment of laying hens.”
And it seems that this trend of misleading consumers will continue under the guise of words such as “enriched”, “enhanced”, “furnished” or “modified” cages. Most deceptive of all is the allowance of enriched caging systems to qualify for “humane” labeling such as the American Humane Association’s “American Humane® Certified” label.
The popularity of enriched cages has already won over the EU, which precedes the US in making this caging system its standard. Even renowned animal behavior expert, Temple Grandin, has given support to the enriched cage system. However, this popularity did not win over the US Senate, which denied their addition to the 2012 Farm Bill, and now the bill is up for debate in the House of Representatives.
Often we are told to “vote with our dollar” in order to generate demand for food raised or grown through humane, environmentally responsible practices. Through this demand the market is supposed to respond by switching to these consumer desired cultivating techniques. However, Mr Miller pointed out that it may be near impossible to vote for better eggs with your dollar if this bill gets passed, as egg producers are known for selling both caged and cage-free eggs.
Indeed, this is the case with many Big-Ag corporations which produce both organic and non-organic products, a fact which was pronounced greatly in the number of organic brands which astonishingly financed the campaign against Prop 37. As with many such products, by buying cage-free eggs you may very well be supporting inhumane farming practices nonetheless.
Organizations like the HFA and other advocates against the Egg Bill suggest that those who wish to retain their right to vote on how egg producing hens are raised sign an opposing petition as well as send an email to your local representative. Both of these actions can easily be done from the HFA’s website campaigning against the bill.
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