The Humane Society of the United States: Historic agreement reached for nation's egg-laying hens
Date: July 7, 2011
Byline: Wayne Pacelle
I am excited to announce a historic agreement that The Humane Society of the United States reached this morning with the United Egg Producers, which could result in a complete makeover of the U.S. egg industry and improve the treatment of the 280 million laying hens used each year in U.S. egg production. Thanks to your support over the years, through our state ballot initiatives and legislative and corporate campaigns, we now have a new pathway forward to ban barren battery cages and phase in more humane standards nationwide.
The HSUS and UEP have agreed to work together to advocate for federal legislation that would:
- Require a moratorium at the end of 2011 on new construction of unenrichable battery cages — small, cramped, cages that nearly immobilize more than 90 percent of laying hens today — and the nationwide elimination of barren battery cages through a phase-out period;
- Require phased in construction of new hen housing systems that provide hens nearly double the amount of space they're currently provided;
- Require environmental enrichments so birds can engage in important natural behaviors currently denied to them in barren cages, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas;
- Mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as "eggs from caged hens" or "eggs from cage-free hens";
- Prohibit forced molting through starvation — an inhumane practice that is inflicted on tens of millions of hens each year and which involves withholding all food from birds for up to two weeks in order to manipulate the laying cycle;
- Prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses — a common problem in the industry that is harmful to both hens and egg industry workers;
- Require standards for euthanasia of hens; and
- Prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these above requirements.
If enacted, this would be the first federal law relating to chickens used for food, as well as the first federal law relating to the on-farm treatment of any species of farm animal.
Some of the provisions would be implemented nearly immediately after enactment, such as those relating to forced molting, ammonia, and euthanasia, and others after just a few years, including labeling and the requirement that all birds will have to have at least 67 square inches of space each. (Currently, approximately 50 million laying hens are confined to only 48 square inches each.) The bill would require that all egg producers increase space per bird in a tiered phase-in, resulting in a final number, within 15 years for nearly all producers, of at minimum, 124-144 square inches of space each, along with the other improvements noted above.
In order to protect Proposition 2 (a landmark laying hen welfare initiative passed in California in 2008 that many of you worked on), all California egg producers — with nearly 20 million laying hens — would be required to eliminate barren battery cages by 2015 (the date Prop 2 goes into effect), and provide all hens with environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas. This will also apply to the sale of all eggs and egg products in California. And this agreement to pass comprehensive federal legislation on hen welfare puts a hold on planned ballot measures related to laying hen welfare in both Washington and Oregon.
Passing this federal bill would be a historic improvement for hundreds of millions of animals per year. We are grateful to all of our volunteers, supporters, and others who have helped to make the cage confinement of egg-laying hens a national issue, and we will keep you informed as we make progress on this issue. I hope you will contact your U.S. senators and representative today and urge them to support this federal legislation to end barren battery cage confinement and provide more humane standards for laying hens.
President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States