Groundbreaking: Egg Industry Backs Federal Regulation for Hen Welfare

battery hens photo

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Animal welfare groups are celebrating an announcement from the industry group United Egg Producers that it will support the first-ever federal legislation to improve conditions for all egg-laying hens in the country.

The shift toward more humane egg production has been picking up pace over the last year, but on a state-by-state basis, and the proposed bill would be the first federal law to regulate the treatment of factory-farmed animals. It would also be the first farmed animal protection legislation of any kind in more than 30 years, according to Farm Sanctuary, one of the groups that worked with UEP on this issue.The legislation would, according to Farm Sanctuary:

  • require the nationwide elimination of battery cages--tiny cages that nearly immobilize hundreds of millions of laying hens today;

  • require environmental enrichments so that 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 which 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 shock their bodies into another 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 practices; and

  • prohibit the sale of all eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these requirements.

Looking Ahead
Some of the provisions would be implemented almost immediately, including those related to starvation, ammonia levels, and euthanasia. Others, such as the labeling requirement, would take a few years.

The Humane Society of the United States adds that they and UEP will "jointly ask Congress for federal legislation which would require egg producers to increase space per bird." Such a requirement would be phased in over the next 15 to 18 years.

"This deal represents a major victory for farmed animals," said Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur. "For too long, animals on factory farms have had no federal protection from even the most heinous abuse."

More on egg production and factory farms
How To Buy Humane Eggs - What to Know, and What You Can Forget
Factory Farms On Their Way Out? Ohio Farmers Agree to Lighten Up on the Confinement of Animals
California Becomes the First Cage-Free Egg State

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