The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers have reached an agreement to work together to enact comprehensive new federal legislation regarding U.S. egg production. If enacted, the proposed standards would be the first federal law that outlines specific treatment of animals on farms.

There are about 280 million hens producing eggs for the U.S. marketplace today. The two groups will jointly ask Congress for federal legislation, which would include individual bird space allocations and more. Here's a look:

• Require conventional cages to be replaced, through a phase-in period, with new, enriched housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space currently allotted. Egg producers will invest an additional $4 billion over the next 15 years for this action. 

• Require that all egg-laying hens be provided environments that will allow them to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas.

• Mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the housing method used to produce the eggs. These include “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens” and “eggs from free-range hens”.

• Prohibit the process of withholding feed or water to delay molting and extend the laying cycle. The UEP already has a certified program for this, which “a majority of egg farmers” already adhere to.

• Require American Veterinary Medical Association euthanasia standards for egg laying hens.

• Prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses.

• Prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that do not meet these requirements.

The increased bird space will be implemented in a tiered, phase-in schedule over the next 15 to 18 years. The groups report that most space allotments today involve 67 square inches per bird, with roughly 50 million receiving 48 square inches. In the final phase-in, each hen would have a minimum of 124 to 144 square inches of space.

 “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,” says Bob Krouse, UEP chairman and an Indiana egg farmer. “We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers.”

If Congress passes the legislation, it would supersede state laws including those that have been passed in Arizona, California, Michigan and Ohio.

“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,” says Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer.

In response to the HSUS UEP proposal, Doug Wolf, National Pork Producers Council president and Wisconsin pork producer says, “First, the U.S. pork industry is committed to animal well-being and continuous improvement in all aspects of pork production. But legislation pre-empting state laws on egg production systems would set a dangerous precedent to allow the federal government to dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals. It would inject the federal government into the marketplace with no measureable benefit to public or animal health and welfare.”

 He cites two significant pork industry programs to address animal handling and care-- Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport Quality Assurance. These programs educate and certify producers in best practices, he points out. Producers adopt the “We Care” ethical principles that include producers’ commitments to:

 ·         Raise animals humanely and compassionately.

  • Produce safe, nutritious pork.
  • Use animal health products responsibly and in consultation with a veterinarian.
  • Protect the environment and public health through best practices.

 “U.S. pork producers have practiced these principles for decades because it’s the right thing to do.” Wolf says.