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Rejecting the Egg Bill Means Rejecting Cages

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Rejecting the Egg Bill Means Rejecting Cages

By Karen Davis,PhD, United Poultry Concerns (UPC) as posted on Free From Harm
May 2013

This year’s Egg Bill is even worse than last year’s: one of the worst exemptions allows the toxic excretory ammonia levels of 25 parts per million in confined-hen buildings to reach even higher levels of toxicity to accommodate egg industry “emergencies” of unspecified duration. The toxic ammonia the Egg Bill permits constitutes animal cruelty even without cages.

“This legislation puts cages in place, puts them in law. That’s a huge cave-in . . .”
— Joe Miller, attorney for Rose Acre Farms Battery Cage Hen Operation, 2nd largest egg producer in the U.S., 2013.

Free from Harm opposes the EGG PRODUCTS INSPECTION ACT AMENDMENTS OF 2013. We oppose legislation that benefits egg producers and legally condemns hens to living in cages.

Key Facts

In “Agreement Raises Flags for Egg-Laying Hens” published in 2012, United Poultry Concerns reviewed the effort by animal advocates to ban cages for egg-laying hens in Europe and the United States. In 2011, a pact between The Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers frustrated this effort, which also failed in the European Union when a law went into effect January 1, 2012 banning conventional barren battery cages while legalizing “enriched” or “furnished” battery cage systems for hens in the EU.

Following suit, the alliance between HSUS and UEP led to legislation before Congress in 2012. The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (The “Egg Bill”) sought to legalize cages for egg-laying hens, prevent voters from initiating ballots to ban cages in their own state, and prohibit states from passing stronger welfare laws than those set in the Egg Bill.

Last year’s bills failed but are once again before Congress. Under the terms of the 2013 Egg Bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Rep. Curt Schrader of Oregon, barren battery cages would be phased out over a 20-year period and replaced by “enriched” cages as the dominant housing system for hens in the United States.

The Egg Bill would legalize and legitimize cages for hens

Since cages are the cheapest way to mass-produce billions of eggs for consumers, the majority of the 280 million hens in U.S. facilities will continue to be caged in long windowless buildings just as they are now, under the proposed law.

This year’s Egg Bill is even worse than last year’s: one of the worst exemptions allows the toxic excretory ammonia levels of 25 parts per million in confined-hen buildings to reach even higher levels of toxicity to accommodate egg industry “emergencies” of unspecified duration. The toxic ammonia the Egg Bill permits constitutes animal cruelty even without cages.

What is an enriched cage?

In her forthcoming book Chickens’ Lib: The Story of a Campaign, Clare Druce, founder of Chickens’ Lib in England in the 1970s, summarizes in “Enriched” Cages – A Gaping Loophole in the “Welfare” Law for Egg-Laying Hens in the European Union:

Basically it’s still a battery cage, the birds living behind bars on metal grid flooring, the cages stacked up in tiers, many thousands of hens to a building. Compared to the old-style cage, there’s mandatory additional floor space per hen measuring roughly the size of a postcard, bringing the entire minimum space per hen to 750 square centimeters (116 square inches), little more than a sheet of paper.

The cages must include a perch, a “nest” box and a scratch pad. The term “nest box” sounds comforting, Clare says. “But in the enriched cage context it is simply a curtained area, behind which the hen finds the same sloping cage floor, the metal grid now covered in matting of some kind. Not a wisp of straw, no soft material with which to arrange her nest. Some of the enriched colony cages I saw held up to 60 hens. Gleaming metal cages stretched away into the distance, and there was that familiar unending clamor of frustrated hens’ voices.”

Helping Hens or Benefiting Their Abusers?

Under the terms of the Egg Bill, the majority of hens will remain in cages. They will be locked into a federal law administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture which doesn’t even enforce the 55-year-old “Humane Slaughter Act,” from which birds are excluded.

At most, brown hens, being slightly larger than the white hens who represent the majority of egg-laying hens in the United States, may within 20 years get a maximum of 144 square inches apiece, or one square foot of living space per hen. The white hens will max out at 124 square inches per hen, well below a square foot, even though a hen needs a minimum 1.5 square foot, or 216 square inches, merely to engage in minimal “normal behavior.”

Whether the Egg Bill would ban starvation molting of hens is a question. The ammonia cave-in and the cage cave-in show how capitulation to egg industry economics and “emergencies” will likely influence the bill as it moves through the legislative process to its final, eviscerated form.

The claim that the proposed legislation would ban inhumane methods of “euthanasia” is totally false. Spent hens are just piles of garbage – a costly nuisance – to egg producers, to be gotten rid of any old way. Like the male chicks of the egg industry who are trashed as soon as they are born, their sisters are a waste product to this industry as soon as they lay fewer eggs. Gassing hens to death with CO2 in metal boxes is NOT EUTHANASIA!

What Should I Do?

With Congress set to consider the Farm Bill shortly, please notify your U.S. Senators and Representatives that you oppose the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. Call them at (202) 224-3121. Urge them to oppose this legislation and briefly and clearly explain your reason.