WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers today announced an agreement to work together toward the enactment of federal legislation that will establish new treatment standards for all 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production.
The new standards will require the conventional hen cages currently used by 90% of the U.S. egg industry to be replaced by new, enriched housing systems. Each hen would have approximately double the space they're currently allotted, and the new housing would feature perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas that allow hens to express natural behaviors. The changes, which will cost the industry an estimated $4 billion, will be implemented in tiered phases during the next 15 to 18 years.
The new standards will also prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses, and will prohibit feed and water-withholding to extend the laying cycle — a practice that was already banned by the United Egg Producers Certified program. Laying hens must be euthanized using methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and all egg cartons will be required to carry labeling that informs consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as "eggs from caged hens," "eggs from hens in enriched cages," "eggs from cage-free hens," and "eggs from free-range hens."
"America's egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers," Bob Krouse, chairman of UEP and an Indiana egg farmer, said in a release. "We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers."
The two groups will jointly ask Congress to approve legislation mandating the standards.
If passed by Congress, the legislation would supersede state laws including those that have been passed in Arizona, California, Michigan and Ohio, according to the release. In recognition of ballot Proposition 2 passed by voters in that California in 2008, UEP and HSUS will ask Congress to require California egg producers — with nearly 20 million laying hens — to eliminate conventional cages by 2015 and provide all hens with the space and environmental enrichments that the rest of the egg industry will be phasing in over the next 15 to 18 years. These requirements will also apply to the sale of all eggs and egg products in California under the proposed federal legislation.
This agreement to seek federal rules also puts a hold on planned ballot measures related to egg-laying hens in both Washington and Oregon.
Additional commentary on the issue is available on Refresh, the SN Whole Health blog.