Three members of the US House of Representatives have introduced a bill that, if made law, would improve the welfare of the 280 or million egg-laying hens by 2030.
The two organizations, previously at odds, have set aside their differences in their aim to help establish a national standard, which would significantly reduce the costs for individual farmers of maintaining compliance with individual state laws, as well as improving the general welfare of the layers.
The bill, H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, if made into legislation, would
- require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space;
- require that, after a phase-in period, all egg-laying hens be provided with environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas, that will allow hens to express natural behaviors;
- require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs—“eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens” and “eggs from free-range hens”;
- prohibit feed- or water-withdrawal molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program;
- require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of egg-laying hens;
- prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses; and
- prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.
Individual states have often-conflicting standards for egg production, which some have addressed through standardization.
If passed, the amendment bill would supersede those state laws and create a federal standard - something UEP says is the only solution in enhancing hen welfare and ensuring a sustainable future for America's family-owned egg farms.
"Eggs are a national commodity and egg producers should have a level playing field - not have different, costly rules in all 50 states," said Gene Gregory, president and chief executive of the UEP, which represents 88% of the nation's egg producers.
If enacted, the proposal would require egg producers to increase space per hen in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space hens are given increasing, in intervals, over the next 15 to 18 years. Currently, the majority of hens are each provided 432 square centimetres of space, with up to 50 million receiving just 309 square centimetres. The proposed phase-in would culminate with a minimum of 800 square centimetres of space for white hens and 929 for brown hens nationwide.