Today, The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers announced in a joint statement that they will work together to urge U.S. lawmakers to craft legislation overseeing the living conditions of the 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production. This would mark the first federal law regulating the treatment of animals on farms.
Among the proposed standards would be living quarters allowing 124-144 square inches of space (most currently receive 67 square inches, and some 50 million reside in 48 square inches) for each chicken, environments that allow birds to express "natural behaviors" in boxes, scratching areas and perches, and a reduction in excessive ammonia levels in hen houses.
Additionally, the statement called for a cessation of practices that extend the laying cycle by prohibiting food and water levels (a practice frowned upon by most of the industry) as well as an extension of label requirements to inform customers if they are buying “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” or “eggs from free-range hens.”
Bob Krouse, chairman of the United Egg Producers and an Indiana egg farmer, himself said in the statement, “America’s egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States also wrote, "It is always our greatest hope to find common ground and to forge solutions, even with traditional adversaries. We are excited about a new and better pathway forward and hope the Congress seizes the opportunity to embrace this sort of collaboration and mutual understanding."
Doug Wolf, president of the National Pork Producers Council, however expressed some concern over the notion of sweeping overhauls writing in a statement, "NPPC is gravely concerned that such a one-size-fits-all approach will take away producers’ freedom to operate in a way that’s best for their animals, make it difficult to respond to consumer demands, raise retail meat prices and take away consumer choice, devastate niche producers and, at a time of constrained budgets for agriculture, redirect valuable resources from enhancing food safety and maintaining the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture to regulating on-farm production practices for reasons other than public health and welfare."
The cost of retrofitting or changing the living conditions is estimated to cost egg farmers $4 billion nationwide and take place over the next 15 to 18 years. Some of that cost is expected to be passed along to consumers.