Legislation has been introduced simultaneously in the U.S. House and Senate to establish a national standard for hen housing for the egg industry.
The legislation was introduced April 25 and would codify an agreement between The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) that would transition the U.S. egg industry from conventional cage housing for layers to enriched colony cage housing by the end of 2029.
The agreement was negotiated two years ago (Feedstuffs, July 11, 2011) and represents a significant compromise between HSUS, which has historically insisted on cage-free housing for hens, and UEP, which has sought to merge animal welfare with economic realities.
Implementation would continue cage-type confined housing to contain costs of production for producers and egg prices to consumers but would provide hens with twice as much space as in conventional cages and with "enrichments" such as nests, perches and scratching pads to allow them to express more natural behaviors.
It would also address a labyrinth of state ballot initiatives that require one kind of housing in one state and a different kind of housing in another state that would disrupt egg marketing across the nation.
The legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) and in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Cal.), with bipartisan support in both chambers. Schrader and Feinstein introduced similar legislation last year, but it died in the previous Congress.
The HSUS-UEP agreement is opposed by a number of agricultural groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. and National Pork Producers Council, which believe the congressional mandate would establish precedent for Congress to impose housing standards on other sectors.
However, it's supported by a number of animal activist and egg industry organizations and by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. It also has substantial consumer support, based on HSUS surveys.