By guest blogger Bruce Friedrich, senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary
On July 7, while most of the United States baked in the summer heat, it was a great day for snowballs in Hell. The United Egg Producers, the trade group of the most abusive of farmed animal industries, agreed to support federal legislation that will, upon enactment, improve the welfare of all laying hens in the nation.
Until now, the UEP supported industry practices that make existence a living hell for chickens. It was a proponent of battery cages, wire confinement structures so small that, for the five to ten hens crammed in each, the expression of natural behavior is reduced to little more than breathing and defecating. In these torture chambers, hens are unable to spread even one wing.
Even worse, roughly 50 million hens are crammed into these cages with only 48 square inches per bird. They are literally living on top of one another. Additionally, tens of millions are starved for 2-week periods to shock their bodies into an extra laying cycle.
Practices previously supported by the UEP are so loathsome that a state ballot initiative to ban them passed in California with the most "yes" votes in the state’s ballot initiative history. Similar initiatives were poised for passage in Washington State and Oregon over the next couple years, until the UEP relented.
Extraordinary work by Farm Sanctuary and Humane Society of the United States activists in California, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon has brought the UEP to the table: Even the egg producers can see the writing on the wall, which foretells the end of battery cages. They have agreed to aggressively support legislation that will lessen suffering for hundreds of millions of animals every single year.
The legislation supported by the UEP will: 1) require the eventual nationwide elimination of battery cages; 2) require environmental enrichment that will allow all laying hens to engage in important natural behaviors; 3) mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs; 4) prohibit forced molting through starvation; 5) prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses -- a problem common in the industry and harmful to both hens and workers; 6) require standards for euthanasia practices; and 7) prohibit the sale of all eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these requirements.
This bill, if enacted, will be the first federal law relating to the treatment of chickens used for food, the first federal law relating to the treatment of animals while on farms, and the first federal law improving the treatment of farmed animals in more than 30 years. You can rest assured that Farm Sanctuary will vigorously push for the passage of this legislation.
Some of the requirements, including the total phase out of battery cages, will take years. But some of the provisions, such as those relating to molting, ammonia, and euthanasia,will be implemented almost immediately after enactment, substantially reducing the suffering of hens. Furthermore, while our efforts so far have helped tens of millions of birds annually, this legislation will help 250 million every year within a few years and will eventually remove all U.S. hens from battery cages forever.
At Farm Sanctuary, we share our lives with hens, and we know them as individuals. We will continue to teach consumers that all egg consumption supports cruelty. The idea of confining hens in any cages, including the enriched colony cages (12-foot by 4-foot cages with perches, dust bathing areas, and other forms of enrichment) that will replace tiny battery cages, is unacceptable to us.
Nonetheless, this deal represents a victory for farmed animals. We are proud of our significant part in making it happen, and we salute the hard work of animal protection advocates nationwide who worked so hard on behalf of our nation's hens.