The Washington State Veterinary Medical Association (WSVMA) has announced it will not support passage of Initiative-1130, also known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act should it make the November ballot.
Instead, the WSVMA previously stated its support for passage of Senate Bill (SB) 5487. The proposed legislation before the Senate in Olympia establishes a certification program for US commercial egg laying chicken operations that will provide the nation’s strongest certification and audit protections for commercial egg laying birds. The legislation is supported by the state’s poultry and egg industry.
Fundamentally, I-1130 takes issue with the manner in which laying hens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and Guinea fowl are housed and it would outlaw all commercial, caged housing systems that do not allow birds to enter and exit at will. The initiative would also restrict commercial egg production to only a non-caged, yet unspecified method.
Prior to its executive board meeting on April 1, the WSVMA leadership heard four presentations concerning the pending legislation.
“This is an important issue for Washington voters,” said Dr. Debi Wallingford, a past-president of the WSVMA and a small animal veterinarian in Bellevue. “We felt they would benefit from our professional opinion help them make a responsible choice, if it comes to that. The issue of hen welfare is not as simple as doing away with cages and eliminating certain sales in Washington.
“In our opinion, only the pending legislation in SB 5487 offers a consistent structure to improve hen welfare and an annual audit plan for verification of compliance and that’s why we back it. We could have left it there and not offered an opinion on I-1130 except the initiative offers no plan for audit, no clear scientific standards or structure specifically researched to improve the lives of laying hens, and no additional empowerments for enforcement.
“We felt it was important for the public to realise those facts because a vote to simply eliminate cages could drive the seven major producers and 6.5 million laying hens out of Washington and into states with even less protections for hen welfare; something we oppose. If that happens, some 1,500 jobs would be lost and about a $285 million economic impact and $47 million loss in employee earnings.
“The public clearly buys and consumes animal products and we recognise they also want to make sure those animals’ lives are as healthy and enriched as producers can make them. The public also demands safe food as do we. Food safety is best managed in a progressive structured environment with strong oversight like that in the proposed legislation. ”
Dr. Wallingford made it clear however, that if SB 5487 passes, Washington egg producers’ responsibilities don’t end there.
“Our profession has endorsed the pending legislation over I-1130 because it’s better. It is not ideal though. Production is near optimal now and that’s fine. The question is; can we still produce at the level we do now for the human food supply and improve the lives of laying hens, too? We believe the answer is yes, as do the best scientists and the most progressive egg farmers here and in Europe. We expect the industry to aggressively pursue improving hen welfare as science and engineering show better ways to do so. The industry needs to show us they realise that hen welfare does not stop here, it only begins with this important step and it should progress with all due speed based upon some of the deplorable conditions that sometimes exist elsewhere.”