A new bill introduced earlier in February in the Arizona House of Representatives would phase out the use of cages in egg production or eggs sold from hens raised in cages. Rep. Timothy Dunn, a Republican and chairman of the Arizona House Land & Agriculture Committee, introduced House Bill 2724 with first and second readings on Feb. 4 and 5.
The legislation states: “From and after Dec. 31, 2020, a farm owner or operator in this state may not knowingly confine an egg-laying hen in an enclosure with less than 1 sq. ft. of usable floor space per hen. From and after Dec. 31, 2024, a farm owner or operator in this state may not knowingly confine an egg-laying hen in an enclosure: (1) that is not a cage-free housing system; (2) with less than either: (a) 1 sq. ft. of usable floor space per hen in multitiered aviaries, partially slatted cage-free housing systems or any other cage-free housing system that provides hens with unfettered access to vertical space, (b) one and one-half square feet of usable floor space per hen in single-level all-litter floor systems or any other cage-free housing system that does not provide hens with unfettered access to vertical space.”
The bill also requires that after Dec. 31, 2020, no one may knowingly sell or transport for sale eggs or egg products that do not meet the cage-free guidelines.
The bill is being described as a compromise between Hickman's Family Farms and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). However, neither Hickman’s nor HSUS offered confirmation of this. The United Egg Producers did confirm the report but said it is neutral on the legislation.
The Phoenix New Times in Arizona stated that Dunn was approached by Hickman’s and asked to introduce the bill, “Dunn said, because ‘they have negotiated something that they believe they can live with, to stay in business.’ He said the requirements laid out in the bill were ‘100%’ from Hickman's compromise with the Humane Society,” according to the Phoenix New Times report.
According the Arizona Farm Bureau, Hickman Farms and Rose Acre Farms are the dominant commercial table egg operations in the state, accounting for the vast majority of production. Industry estimates peg Hickman’s flock at 8.2 million birds at the end of 2018, according to Michael Sheats, director of the agricultural analytics division at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service. A majority of those eggs are in Arizona, but some may also be located in Colorado, as numbers for each individual state are not officially published, Sheats noted.
He added that Hickman’s reported in 2017 said it was planning to add housing for up to 2 million cage-free hens in Arizona. “It is not known if they have hit that goal yet but, if they have, 24% of their production would be cage free. They were planning on going to 10 million in five years, which would be 2022 to 2023,” he said.
If passed, Arizona will be joining states like California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Michigan, all of which have passed cage-free egg laws.