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Rotten Egg Bill': Would Uniform Standard for Hen Cages Cripple Chicken Industry?

“This legislation creates a slippery slope."

Last week, seven Senators proposed legislation that would standardize the size of cages for egg-laying hens across the country in an effort to allow for eggs to be sold across state lines. Although this may sound like a win-win -- both for the hens and those distributing eggs -- others in the agriculture industry -- and some animal rights groups -- are up in arms over the bill.

The bill was sponsored with bipartisan support and is also backed by the Humane Society of the United States and Egg Producers United.

“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, said in a statement provided by the Humane Society. “Our industry is being endangered by the growing patchwork of differing and contradictory state laws and ballot initiatives that are impeding the free flow of interstate commerce in eggs that is so vital to grocers, restaurateurs, food manufacturers and consumers.”

The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 proposes giving white hens no less than 124 square inches of space and brown hens no less than 144 squre inches within the next 15 to 18 years. Currently, most hens get 67 square inches. The legislation would affect more than 280 million hens in the United States.

The Poultry Site reports the Humane Farming Association being "outraged" over the bill. The HFA, according to its campaign website Stop the Rotten Egg Bill, is against the proposed legislation because it keeps hens in cages -- instead of "free range" as it would prefer. It even produced this short, dramatic animation in opposition of the bill:

The HFA and others also take issue with the fact that the legislation would "preempt state laws [saying it] is a direct assault upon egg laying hens, voters, and states' rights," HFA Director Bradley Miller said. He told The Poultry Site that the industry is "seeking to establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote."

Even those in other parts of the agriculture industry oppose the bill. The National Pork Producers Council, the American Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the National Turkey Federation are among them. National Hog Farmer reports these groups and others are concerned the proposed legislation could lead to other bills that would affect their livestock.

“My biggest concern with H.R. 3798 is that outside groups with no knowledge of the industry will be dictating my livelihood and potentially compromising the welfare of my livestock,” President of the National Cattleman's Beef Association J.D. Alexander said. “This legislation creates a slippery slope. Today, it’s egg farmers but tomorrow it could be any other segment of animal agriculture and we’re not going to let that happen.”

The Hill reports senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who introduced the legislation, saying the "patchwork" of state laws affecting egg distribution in its current state hinders interstate commerce:

"As states with disparate standards continue to protect their own egg producers by banning the sale of eggs from States with lower or no standards, a complicated web of state laws will impair interstate commerce."

A similar bill has already been introduced in the House.

One last thing…
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