In July 2011 the United Egg Producers shook up the countryside when it forged an unlikely partnership with The Humane Society of the United States in an effort to push a uniform, national cage production standard for the U.S. egg industry.
Now, with the farm bill complete –and previously most likely vehicle of a passage for the bill – UEP and HSUS have decided to end their memorandum of understanding. So now begs the question, what’s next and was it all a show?
During the farm bill, Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) was poised to introduce the Egg Bill as part of the farm bill, but was adamantly opposed by other livestock groups who called the Egg Bill a “poison pill” for final farm bill passage and feared the approach would open up the door for animal welfare guidelines be imposed at the national level for other species.
Their proposal would have established a single national standard for the treatment of egg-laying hens and the labeling of eggs. Most notably the bill would have mandated all conventional cages to be replaced during the next 15 to 18 year phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen nearly double the amount of current space.
In August 2012, the Senate held a hearing that outlined some of the concerns and benefits of the bill. (Read blog post here for more detailed look.) The agreement was originally for just a year, but was extended until the end of the farm bill process.
At the time UEP said the national legislation was needed to prevent the patchwork of state initiatives that were coming down the pipeline, most notably Prop 2 in California and Michigan. The agreement also required HSUS drop state ballot initiatives in Oregon and Washington at the time.
“Even though the federal bill is all but dead, HSUS will not be reviving any of its anti-cage ballot measures as they previously claimed. Nor will HSUS seek to have enforced any ‘cage-free’ measure already passed,” said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association (HFA).
In a blog dated Feb. 18 by Wayne Parcelle, president of HSUS, didn’t mention whether HSUS will continue to push state initiatives, but did state it’s not too late for Congress to act on the egg bill and wants them to do so.
Parcelle said he believed they had enough votes to pass the measure when House members Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) asked to include the bill as an amendment in the House but was “stalled because of the dysfunction of Congress, the blocking maneuvers of a small number of lawmakers, and bullying and lobbying by other sectors of animal agriculture intent on stymieing any progress on animal welfare.”
Parcelle noted that Congress can still move forward on the legislation. “We will continue to advocate for the bill, and we hold out some hope that Congress is capable of doing what’s right when it comes to the future of a multi-billion-dollar industry and a stable of the American diet.”
In a statement this week, Chad Gregory, president of UEP said, “With the farm bill debate concluded, UEP is now focused on exploring a range of options with the objective of delivering much-needed business certainty to America’s egg farmers.”
Gregory explained “enriched colony housing represents the future this vibrant industry.” He added that UEP is encouraged to see these contemporary houses being constructed throughout the United States.
“We remain dedicated to partnering with members, allies and other stakeholders in hope of achieving a workable solution of transitioning with industry towards Enriched Colony housing in a manner and timeframe that best suits our egg farmer members,” Gregory noted.
Egg law challenge
Protect the Harvest worked alongside the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation against the amendment. “The victory is worth celebrating, but the fight is not yet over,” Protect the Harvest said in an article “She Was A Bad Egg Bill.”
Gregory addressed the fact that California’s Proposition 2 (2008), set to take effect January 1, 2015, is a looming concern.
In recent weeks the Missouri Attorney General has sued the state of California over its mandated production standards for out-of-state produced eggs.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said in a recent radio interview that as of Jan. 1, 2015, Iowa eggs - if they’re not produced according to California’s standards – would not be allowed in California. However, California would not be held to those same standards for another year.
“So it clearly discriminates – there will clearly be lawsuits,” Northey said. “Certainly Iowa as a state is likely to engage. I think we’ll have Iowa producers, too.”
He added that currently Iowa has over 50 million layers which produce 14-15 billion eggs per year, or roughly 25% of the nation’s egg production.
And all of the eggs produced are under a national egg inspection system. For California to declare these eggs to be illegal is “wrong on its face,” Northey said.
“It’s a template to bring those kinds of laws from anyplace about anything,” he says. “So it could be about sow crates next. It could be about GMOs, it could be about what herbicide is used on a farm.
“So there’s a lot at stake here—and even a lot at stake for folks outside of California and Iowa,” Northey said.
Parcelle said HSUS will fight Missouri Attorney General’s attempt to “undercut the rules of the state of California with all our might.”
Meanwhile, Parcelle said HSUS will be asking major food retailers in California to get ready to start exclusively selling cage-free eggs in California, since cage-free production systems certainly comply with Prop 2 standards.