Senator Feinstein Introduces Egg Products Inspection Legislation

Following introduction of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798), companion legislation that would set federal housing standards for egg-laying hens has been introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – again raising the specter that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the livestock sector will engage one another at the Federal level, as well as at the state level. The looming clash will take place during an election year and while Congress and the Administration work to craft a new farm bill.

The proposed legislation would codify an agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) that would require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space. After the phase-in period, producers would be required to provide all egg-laying hens with environmental enrichments (e.g. perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas) that will allow hens to express natural behaviors.

In addition, the legislation would prohibit feed or water withdrawal during molting to extend the laying cycle (a practice already prohibited by the UEP Certified program), prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses, and institute standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for euthanasia of egg-laying hens.

Consumers would also not go untouched by the legislation. The proposal would require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs and would prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet the above requirements.

In the past, UEP President and CEO Gene Gregory articulated his belief that the legislation would help egg producers better plan for the future. Mr. Gregory noted that “Eggs are a national commodity, and egg producers should have a level playing field – not have different, costly rules in all 50 states. That’s where we are heading if we don’t pass this federal legislation. We need this legislation for our customers and consumers and the survival of egg farmers.”

But other livestock groups continue to sound the alarm that the legislation is only the beginning of a “government takeover of farms.” In a recent Op-Ed following the introduction of the House legislation, National Pork Producer Council President Doug Wolf noted that “This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals”. Mr. Wolf’s Op-Ed can be viewed in its entirety at https://rdlassociates.wordpress.com/.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald has also expressed concerns related to the legislation. “This legislation, while currently only affecting egg producers, could set a dangerous precedent to allow government bureaucrats in Washington to mandate how farmers and ranchers across the nation raise and care for their animals,” said Donald. “This ill-conceived legislation could set the model for a one-size-fits-all approach to cattle production. Unfortunately, one-size-fits all doesn’t work with cattle producers, who are in diverse settings in all 50 states. This legislation won’t improve animal health or care and will result in further costly and burdensome regulations being placed on America’s food producers.” In addition to HSUS, there are a number of animal rights groups that continue to oppose modern animal agriculture, leaving little doubt that the livestock sector will have to continue defending themselves against ongoing attacks.

Those in support of animal agriculture will have to find avenues to amplify their message that agricultural producers in rural America raising livestock or growing the necessary commodities for animal feed are critical for producer vitality in the complex global food chain. Support for a vibrant and viable livestock sector and maintenance of consumer confidence in the Nation’s food supply will be critical for the animal agriculture sector in crafting initiatives for livestock and poultry care standards that are based on sound science, sound information and economic feasibility.

Below is an article regarding the Senate legislation from Farm Safety News)

Egg Standards Bill Introduced in Senate (via Food Safety News)

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and a bipartisan group of seven other senators introduced a bill late last week to set federal housing standards for egg-laying hens, again sparking protest from both pork and beef producers, as well as other animal rights activists who are now calling it the “rotten egg bill.”

The measure, which mirrors a bill recently introduced in the House, is based on a landmark deal struck between the Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers, would double the space allowed to each of the nation’s approximately 280 million egg-laying hens, which HSUS has advocated for years, and also give the egg industry regulatory certainty across state lines.

The compromise has the support of American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as well as several consumer groups and state egg associations, but it’s not clear whether the coalition will have a strong enough coalition to put it into law, especially since other powerful agricultural interests and some animal rights groups are actively fighting the proposal.

After Feinsten introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 — with Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT) Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) David Vitter (R-LA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) — the Humane Farming Association expressed “outrage” over the move.

“The egg 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,” said Bradley Miller, National Director of HFA. “This bill would preempt state laws, such as California’s Proposition 2, and is a direct assault upon egg laying hens, voters, and states’ rights.”

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Chief Executive Officer Neil Dierks told National Hog Farmer that the proposal “has far too big an impact on consumers for them to be introduced without any public hearings or debate.”

The UEP seems to be standing alone in the animal agriculture community. The American Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Turkey Federation and others have also balked at the plan. Animal ag groups have expressed strong concerns about the precedent the bill would set, calling it “an unconscionable federal overreach.”

The egg industry argues that the bill is in the best interest of the industry.

“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” said Gene Gregory, president of UEP. “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.”

Both HSUS and UEP are pointing out that their proposal affects only egg producers. The bill in the House was sponsored by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jeff Denham (R-CA).

© Food Safety News

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