Congressmen Sam Farr (D-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) have introduced HR 3798, the “Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012.”  The legislation would codify the agreement between the United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to establish a national standard on cage sizes and enriched housing for egg laying hens.  The changes required would be phased-in over 15 to 18 years.  Congressman Farr said, “Having consistent rules and a national standard will help egg producers meet the consumer demand for safe, wholesome food and will send a message that doing what's good for animal welfare and what's good for industry economics are not mutually exclusive." The act 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 space they typically have;

• 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, such as 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 hen houses;

 • Prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products, nationwide, that do not meet these requirements; and

 • Seek no federal funds.

Those supporting the bill include the United Egg Producers, state egg associations of California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary and National Consumers League.  Concerns or opposition has been raised with this legislation by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Farmers Union, National Pork Producers (NPPC) and National Turkey Federation. The NPPC stated: “This one-size-fits-all farm takeover bill is government intrusion on family farms at its worst and is unnecessary.  If enacted, it would open Pandora’s Box for special interest groups to pursue similar federal laws on pig farmers, dairy farmers and other family farming operations.”  

Supreme Court Rules Against California “Downer” Law — The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that California’s law requiring all non-ambulatory animals be euthanized immediately upon arrival at a packing plant without the opportunity for veterinary evaluation was unconstitutional.  The California law banned the slaughter of all non-ambulatory livestock, including pigs (fatigued or injured).  Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the court’s opinion, said federal law “precludes California’s effort to impose new rule, beyond any the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) has chosen to adopt, on what a slaughterhouse must do with a pig that becomes non-ambulatory during the production process.”  The National Meat Association (NMA) brought suit against the State of California on the grounds that the law was in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. 

Business and Agriculture Raise Concerns with Trade Reorganization Proposal — A group of 85 business and agricultural groups are asking President Barak Obama to reconsider merging the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) with five other agencies responsible for business and trade into one singe cabinet-level department.  In a letter a letter to the White House, the group stated: “USTR’s unique and important role stems in substantial part from its position within the Executive Office of the President, lending it credibility with foreign trading partners, Congress and other U.S. government entities and private stakeholders.  Most developed economies have a direct counterpart to the USTR that reports to the head of government, which lends the position enormous credibility.  Subsuming USTR into a broader trade and business government department will severely harm that credibility and USTR’s ability to play its unique coordinating role within the U.S. government.”  Those signing the letter included the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat Institute, American Soybean Association, Consumer Electronics Association, Motion Picture Association of America, National Association of Manufacturers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Retail Federation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.  The administration is proposing to merge the U.S. Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, USTR, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporations and U.S. Trade and Development agency.

 

New Standards for School Meals — USDA released its new standards for healthier school meals.  The new standards call for an increase in the servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and a decrease in the amount of fats, salt and sugar in school meals.  Only fat-free and low-fat milk can be served.  The standards include:

•         Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day;

•         Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;

•         Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;

•         Limiting calories based on the age of children to ensure proper portion size; and

•         Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

The new meal requirements will raise the standards for the first time in more than 15 years.  The new standards were required by Congress with the passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” in 2010.