THE United Egg Producers (UEP) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have agreed not to extend their memorandum of understanding in an effort to push for a uniform, national cage production standard for the U.S. egg industry.
In a statement, UEP president Chad Gregory said, "With the farm bill debate concluded, UEP is now focused on exploring a range of options with the objective of delivering much-needed business certainty to America's egg farmers."
In July 2011, UEP and HSUS announced their historic agreement to push for a national solution and avoid a patchwork of state initiatives setting standards on production practices. Their proposal would have established a single national standard for the treatment of egg-laying hens and the labeling of eggs.
Most notably, the bill would have mandated all conventional cages to be replaced during the next 15- to 18-year phase-in period with new enriched colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen with nearly double the amount of current space.
Gregory explained that "enriched colony housing represents the future of this vibrant industry." He added that UEP is encouraged to see these contemporary houses being constructed throughout the U.S.
"We remain dedicated to partnering with members, allies and other stakeholders in hope of achieving a workable solution of transitioning with industry towards enriched colony housing in a manner and time frame that best suit our egg farmer members," Gregory noted.
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) was poised to introduce the egg bill as part of the farm bill, but she was adamantly opposed by other livestock groups that called the egg bill a "poison pill" for final farm bill passage and feared that the approach would open the door to imposing national animal welfare guidelines on other species.
In a Feb. 18 blog by Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, he said he believed his group had enough votes to pass the measure when House members Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Cal.) asked to include the bill as an amendment in the House, but it was "stalled because of the dysfunction of Congress, the blocking maneuvers of a small number of lawmakers and bullying and lobbying by other sectors of animal agriculture intent on stymieing any progress on animal welfare."
Pacelle noted that Congress can still move forward on the legislation. "We will continue to advocate for the bill, and we hold out some hope that Congress is capable of doing what's right when it comes to the future of a multibillion-dollar industry and a staple of the American diet," he said.
Egg law challenge
In recent weeks, the Missouri attorney general filed a lawsuit against the state of California over its mandated production standards for eggs produced out of state (Feedstuffs, Feb. 10).
Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey noted in a recent radio interview that as of Jan. 1, 2015, Iowa eggs, if not produced according to California's standards, will not be allowed in California. However, California will not be held to those same standards for another year.
"So, it clearly discriminates; there will clearly be lawsuits," Northey said. "Certainly, Iowa, as a state, is likely to engage. I think we'll have Iowa producers, too."
He added that Iowa currently has more than 50 million layers that produce 14-15 billion eggs per year, or roughly 25% of the nation's egg production.
Also, all of the eggs produced are under a national egg inspection system. For California to declare these eggs to be illegal is "wrong on its face," Northey said.
"It's a template to bring those kinds of laws from anyplace about anything," he said. "So, it could be about sow crates next. It could be about (genetically modified organisms). It could be about what herbicide is used on a farm.
"There's a lot at stake here — and even a lot at stake for folks outside of California and Iowa," Northey added.
Pacelle said HSUS will fight the Missouri attorney general's attempt to "undercut the rules of the state of California with all our might."
Meanwhile, Pacelle said HSUS will be asking major food retailers in California to get ready to start exclusively selling cage-free eggs in California since cage-free production systems comply with the state's standards.