Late last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee listened to testimony regarding the “Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012” (S. 3239), aka: the Egg Bill. It is the proposal drafted by the United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), to set federal housing and labeling standards for egg-laying hens. It’s always fodder for lively discussion.
In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Attempts to get the bill included in either the Senate or House versions of the 2012 Farm Bill have failed. Egg producers and other farm-animal producers in Feinstein’s state are facing strict housing requirements that could put them at a competitive disadvantage to producers in other states.
If the Egg Bill is to move forward, it will need help, which is what Feinstein is attempting to accomplish with the hearing. Testifying at the hearing were David Lathem, UEP chairman; Eric Benson, president of J.S. West and Companies; Greg Herbruck, executive vice president of Herbruck's Poultry Ranch; and Amon Baer, owner of Mendelson Egg Company. Baer was the only witness to testify against the Egg Bill, reports the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Baer told the committee that the legislation will kill small family egg farmers’ businesses, increase the cost of eggs and establish a dangerous precedent for all livestock industries. Baer also pointed out that the Egg Bill is not based on or justified by science.
Many agricultural groups oppose the Egg Bill, including NPPC, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and American Farm Bureau Federation, point out that it would set a precedent to allow the federal government to regulate on-farm animal production practices.
Along with those groups Senate Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., noted that other national organizations representing egg, milk, sheep, wool and turkey—94 in all—oppose the legislation, as well as four national veterinary organizations.
Roberts told the committee that he is concerned the act would cause a dramatic increase in the price of eggs for consumers already struggling in this economy.
“I have very straight-forward concerns about this policy: is it based on science? What will be the cost to producers and consumers, and what impact will this have on our nutrition programs? Can USDA implement it?” Roberts asked.
He emphasized that there is “absolutely no excuse for animal cruelty,” particularly given the numerous training and educational programs available for those who work with and around animals. Roberts added, “Producers understand that the better they take care of their animals, the more productive those animals will be.”
He acknowledged the challenges facing California egg producers, but said the committee has to consider multiple aspects, including the unintended consequences that such a bill could create. Roberts cited food safety, animal health and welfare, the economics of food production, environmental issues, our international trade obligations “and most importantly—science.”
“What is the best possible science available to govern the manner in which our food supply is produced in this country…is this legislation based on science?” Roberts asked. “Put simply, when we deviate from science-based decisions, we end up making the very problems we’re trying to resolve worse.”
Beyond the challenges that such a law would present when science makes new discoveries, Roberts focused on what initiated the agreement. “I understand that there are some pending class action lawsuits involving anti-trust issues. Is this agreement somehow viewed as an escape hatch from those discussions?” he asked.
You can view a video of the hearing here.