American consumers support the proposed federal legislation standardizing housing for laying hens, according to a study commissioned by United Egg Producers (UEP). UEP joined the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) last week in presenting Congress with a bill (H.R. 3798) that, if passed, would create the first federal legislation of farm-animal housing, production and labeling standards.   

The Bantam Group, an independent research company, conducted the study for UEP, which represents an estimated 80 percent of U.S. egg farmers. UEP emphasizes that the survey's sponsorship was anonymous so as to not bias the 2,000 respondents, all of whom were registered voters.

Those polled said, by a margin of 4-to-1, that they would support federal legislation to move egg production from the existing conventional egg-laying hen cages to “enriched cages”. Also, by a margin of 2 to 1, consumers said that federal legislation was preferable to state legislation.

Enriched cages provide egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of space they currently have in conventional cages, plus provide perches, nest boxes, and scratch pads which allow the hens to exhibit their natural behaviors, according to UEP.

Along with UEP and HSUS, more than 11 egg and farm groups, 10 animal protection groups, and the National Consumers League, support the proposed housing bill. However, a vast number of farm groups also stand in opposition.

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is among those that believe such action has broad-reaching, negative ramifications for animal agriculture.

The key issue is having the federal government determine on-farm production methods, The proposed legislation would limit pork producers’ flexibility in providing animal care, says Neil Dierks, NPPC’s chief executive officer.

“This is a very dangerous precedent…Getting the federal government involved in production standards is tantamount to a ‘take-over-the-farm’ bill,” Dierks says.

He says the proposed House bill (H.R. 3798) is a blueprint for HSUS activities and how they want to further regulate and oversee farm-animal production. “Producers need the flexibility to take care of the animals in the best possible manner in their given circumstances,” Dierks says.

"This is legislation that egg farmers and consumers overwhelmingly support," says David Lathem, a Georgia egg farmer and UEP chairman.  

UEP argues that the question of federal versus state legislation is important because several states had already established, or are in the process of establishing, different laws regarding the housing and sale of eggs in each of their states. For its part in the cooperative effort with egg producers, HSUS has agreed to stop filming undercover videos in laying-hen facilities and pursuing state voter referendums.   

Bantam conducted two nationwide surveys, of 1,000 registered voters each, Dec. 27, 2011 through Jan. 20, 2012. The first survey investigated consumer support for enriched cages, the second survey investigated consumer support for the federal legislation.

Source: United Egg Producers