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February 15, 2012

Talk Back: Working Together to Help Hens

Yesterday, the New York Times joined the Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, and other major newspapers in urging Congress to enact a federal bill to phase out barren battery cages for egg-laying hens and make other important animal welfare improvements for these animals. This bill is the result of an agreement between The HSUS and the nation’s largest egg industry group, the United Egg Producers—two long-time adversaries that have found some common ground.

White and black hen

This legislation is historic because it offers the opportunity not just to help chickens in one state, but hundreds of millions of birds at once, including in major egg production states without the ballot initiative process―where we are unlikely to be able to provide any relief at all for hens otherwise.

The agreement isn’t perfect, but it is a practical way of relieving suffering for hundreds of millions of hens―and it’s a case of adversaries coming together to improve the lives of animals. With the suffering of so many animals at stake, we cannot turn away from this reform, since there is no other logical or practical pathway to drive positive change at this scale. In a measure that asks for less than the ideal, there are concerns, and whenever and wherever I have spoken about the agreement, I have asked to hear from advocates and get their take.

Here are a few of your comments:

Hurrah for the hens! —Valerie Vierk

I love how JS West, the company featured in the NPR story you linked to, allows the cameras in to take pictures of its enriched cage facility. Can you imagine any [barren] battery cage operation doing that? I can't. A penny per egg is a tiny amount to pay for such improved welfare for hens. ―Amy K.

I wish we had the same law in Canada. I won't eat pork or eggs for that reason. Sick of the cruelty to our farm animals... ―Maureen Wheeler

There is nothing wrong with the HSUS trying so hard to work with the egg producing industry. The issue is that after all of the HSUS's battles they are willing to roll over to industry on a bill that does very little to improve the life's of the actual "egg producers," the chickens themselves! If the HSUS had agreed to a deal that was a win for the animals, and not extremely lopsided toward the industry, then people wouldn't be so outraged... ―Kyle Vitale

I just wanted to ask about...the 15-18 year phase-in of getting rid of battery cages, and it also states that it would supersede Proposition 2 in California. Could you please clarify this point? I really want to do what's best for the animals. ―Alokananda Ghosh

I want to take such concerns head-on. Above all, I want to make it clear that this is multi-pronged legislation and we do not have to wait 15 years for its provisions to go into effect. To start, the labeling requirements in the legislation, H.R. 3798―labeling all eggs as either from hens in cages, enriched cages, cage-free, or free range—would take effect one year after passage of the bill; this provision has the potential to move the market almost immediately and dramatically, in the direction of more space and more extensive systems for hens.

It’s also important to note that the phase-in of the larger space requirements for the birds―ultimately essentially doubling the space for most of the birds―would be staggered. One-quarter of the industry (equaling 70 million birds) would be required to start converting away from barren battery cages within 6 years, 55 percent (150 million birds) within 12 years, and the entire industry within 15 to 18 years (all 280 million birds). H.R. 3798 would ban construction of new battery cage facilities 6 months after enactment. In short, this bill will have a major impact immediately. This is critical since there are tens of millions of birds in the most severe and extreme confinement―48- or 52-inch space allotments per animal―meaning that they don’t even get the inadequate 67 square inches called for in pre-existing UEP voluntary standards.

The legislation would also make other improvements like requiring nests and perches for hens, banning forced starvation molting, and prohibiting excessive ammonia levels in henhouses. Ultimately, the bill would nearly double the space most of these birds have now—a major improvement welcomed by a broad coalition of animal protection groups.

H.R. 3798
And all the major backers of Proposition 2, California’s voter-approved initiative to ban extreme confinement of farm animals, support this federal hen bill (The HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, ASPCA, Mercy For Animals, and more). These groups and others recently released a joint ad on why H.R. 3798 is so important. The biggest critic of the legislation, the so-called Humane Farming Association, sat on the sidelines and didn’t even endorse Proposition 2 in California. It is critical to note that there is also a special rule in H.R. 3798 that requires that the federal changes happen in California on the same time frame called for in Prop 2; in short, California will go first, precisely because of Prop 2.

If you haven’t already, please take action today to support this important reform to help millions of chickens.

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