July 7, 2011

Hen Party: Historic Agreement to Promote Standards in Egg Industry

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Today there is good news for the 280 million hens involved in egg production.

United Egg Producers (UEP) has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), agreeing to work together toward legislation of national standards to be used in egg production. This legislation, if enacted, would make history as the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms, whose need for protection has escalated dramatically with the onset of the CAFO era.

The proposed legislation would raise standards for egg-layers considerably and comprehensively. One of the key actions of the bill would be to phase out conventional housing for hens, also known as “battery cages,” by implementing more humane environments. The legislation would also mandate that egg cartons be clearly labeled regarding production methods (“eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” and “eggs from free-range hens”). Other humane measures would be affected as well, legislating practices involving euthanasia, forced-molting, and ammonia levels in the henhouses. The Humane Society’s press release provides further details.

CLF director Robert S. Lawrence, MD, says this about the curious partnering of UEP and the Humane Society: “This agreement is the outcome of the HSUS strategy of addressing the inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms through state ballot initiatives. The passage of Proposition 2 in California, approved by 63 percent of voters in 2008, bans battery cages, veal crates, and sow gestation crates effective January 1, 2015. The threat of similar successes in Washington and Oregon brought the UEP to the bargaining table. Now the challenge is to work on the pork industry.”

Dr. Lawrence helped to author the 2008 Pew Commission report, “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America,” which examines the costs—to human health, to animal welfare, and to the environment—of the agro-industrial complex. Robert Martin, executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, says this in the report:“The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food.”

The agreement between UEP and the Humane Society is especially gratifying, considering the hard row hoed by the Pew Commission in putting together the report. “There have been some serious obstacles to the Commission completing its review and approving consensus recommendations,” Martin wrote in the introduction.

Today, however, is a day for celebration. Says Martin, “There is no doubt in my mind that the release of the Pew Commission report helped in this cause.”

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