Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and six of her colleagues, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), David Vitter (R-LA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced S. 3239, the “Eggs Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012.” The legislation would create a federal animal care standard for 280 million egg-laying hens. It is supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) and is based on an agreement reached earlier this year. According to HSUS and UEP, the legislation would do the following:
· Require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen nearly double the amount of space currently provided;
· 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 (e.g. 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 do not meet these requirements.
The legislation would require egg producers to increase space per hen in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space increasing in intervals over the next 15-18 years. Currently, the majority of hens are each provided 67 sq. in. of space; up to 50 million hens currently have 48 sq. in. of space. The proposed phase-in period would culminate with a minimum of 124 sq. in. of space for white hens and 144 sq. in. for brown hens, nationwide.
Identical legislation (HR 3798) was introduced earlier in the House of Representatives. The HSUS-UEP legislation is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Avian Pathologists, Association of Avian Veterinarians, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Consumer Federation of America, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and the state egg associations of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New England, North Carolina and Ohio. The National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other livestock and agricultural groups strongly oppose the legislation. Their concerns are that this legislation would lead to federal standards for other types of livestock production.