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January 27, 2012

All Aflutter about New Bill to Help Egg-Laying Hens

Last night, National Public Radio aired a lengthy news story about the unusual agreement between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers to support newly introduced legislation to improve the lives of laying hens. The HSUS and the UEP have been fierce adversaries on the issue of the treatment of laying hens for many years. But in 2011, we reached an accord and together agreed to support federal legislation to improve the lives of these animals in all 50 states and give consumers more information on egg cartons about the conditions under which hens are kept.

White hen

The folks at UEP have been working diligently with The HSUS to enact this legislation. I am amazed, however, at the vitriolic reaction to this sincere effort at cooperation and problem-solving by other agribusiness trade groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

They just can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea that sensible people are actually working to solve problems and figure out a way forward―that we don’t have to have never-ending fighting and conflict as the standard in debates over animal welfare in agriculture.

For The HSUS and other animal protection groups, the bill provides a pathway to improve conditions for more than 250 million laying hens now confined in barren battery cages. For consumers, the bill promises important information about their food. For the egg industry, it provides a uniform standard—rather than a patchwork of conflicting state laws—and a way to improve animal welfare in an industry that has had a controversial record on the issue. The leading scientists in the egg industry favor the reforms enumerated in H.R. 3798, because at a minimum the birds should have more space and enrichments to allow them to engage in natural behaviors.

Against all this compelling logic, the American Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council are essentially saying they know more about egg production than egg producers. Against the wisdom of scientists, these critics seem to be saying they are for “science-based” solutions―except when science gets in the way.

In opposing this legislation, they stand squarely against four things: 1) animal welfare, 2) the self-determination of egg farmers, 3) sound science, and 4) cooperation.

These agribusiness groups like to talk about protecting farmers, but here they are trying to subvert the self-determination efforts of the egg industry.

Now, that’s not a position I’d like to defend. We are looking forward to a robust debate on this issue in Congress and an opportunity to take our case to the American people. We’ll be ready for the fight. Please take action if you haven’t already to support this important legislation.

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