LEGISLATION was introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate last week 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) to transition the U.S. egg industry from conventional cage housing to enriched colony cage housing for layers 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 of the deal would continue cage-type confined housing to contain costs of production and consumer egg prices but would provide hens with twice as much space as conventional cages as well as "enrichments" such as nests, perches and scratching pads so hens can 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 risk disrupting 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 adamantly 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 set a 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. The bill also has substantial consumer support, according to HSUS surveys.