U.S. Egg Industry & HSUS Collaborate on Federal Legislation for Battery Hens

Often positive change emerges in tiny steps. One such tiny step has been taken recently, when United Egg Producers, which represents most of the farmers in the U.S. who use egg laying hens, and the Humane Society of the United States reached a landmark agreement to seek federal legislation that would "require larger cages and other improved conditions for the nation's 280 million laying hens."

The primary strategy for animal protection advocates seeking less horrendous conditions for farmed animals has been filming and sharing undercover video, working to change state laws, educating the public, and launching state citizen ballot initiatives. This new potential legislation would affect laying hens in all 50 states.

According to HSUS, the legislation that the two groups hope to propose would:
  • "require a moratorium at the end of 2011 on new construction of unenrichable battery cages—small, cramped, cages that nearly immobilize more than 90 percent of laying hens today—and the nationwide elimination of barren battery cages through a phase-out period;
  • require phased-in construction of new hen housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they’re currently provided;
  • require environmental enrichments so birds can engage in important natural behaviors currently denied to them in barren cages, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas;
  • mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens” or “eggs from cage-free hens;
  • prohibit forced molting through starvation—an inhumane practice that is inflicted on tens of millions of hens each year and which involves withholding all food from birds for up to two weeks in order to manipulate the laying cycle;
  • prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses—a common problem in the industry that is harmful to both hens and egg industry workers; and
  • prohibit the sale of all eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements."
According to the egg industry, many of the changes would be phased in over the next 18 years.

Most animal advocates would say that such legislation doesn't go far enough. And of course, it doesn't for those of us who believe that animals shouldn't be oppressed and exploited. It does nothing, for example, for the millions of male chicks who are suffocated, gassed or ground up alive as a useless "by-product" of the industry, nor does it address painful practices like debeaking, or the horrendous slaughter of the chickens (who have no federal protection at all) when they're no longer of use. However, it IS a positive step for reducing the suffering of battery hens, who endure the most cruel conditions of any farmed animals. As HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle says:
"The goal of The HSUS is not endless campaigning or conflict with political adversaries, but to find a place where we can forge solutions that produce tangible and meaningful outcomes for animals and show a new way forward in society. And that means sitting down with people who see the world differently than we do, even sitting down with industries that we’ve had deep disagreements with in the past."

Find out more here, here and here.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary via Creative Commons.

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