Ads fly over egg bill
Humane Farming Association aims to stir up Congress
By DAN WHEAT
An animal rights organization in California is stepping up its opposition to the national egg standards bill with more advertising, a video and renewed allegations of price-fixing.
Ads against House Resolution 3798, by the Humane Farming Association of San Rafael, Calif., have run mostly in West Coast media but are being released in major East Coast newspapers, said Bradley Miller, association president. One of the ads was to run in the Washington Post, he said.
"We want to get the attention of Congress more," he said.
The bill embodies an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers and sets federal standards for the welfare of egg-laying hens, chiefly increasing cage size from the industry standard of 67 square inches per hen to 124 to 144 square inches.
That's simply trading one cage for a slightly larger one, condemning hens instead of freeing them from cages, Miller said.
While feeling his lobbying against the bill has had an impact and doubting the bill will pass, Miller said he's concerned enough to step up advertising.
The association has released an animated video, titled "A Cage Is A Cage," on its website and YouTube. The video adopts an assumed perspective of a hen in a cage complaining about it being dirty and cramped and the "painful metal floor."
Duane Olsen, veterinarian for egg-producer Briarwood Farms in Rochester, Wash., has said he finds sore feet in just a handful out of 100,000 hens. He has said if hens were unhappy egg production would fall.
Hens can produce in extremely adverse conditions so production is not a legitimate measure of well-being, Miller said. Hens living outside at the association's refuge seem healthier and less stressed than those in cages, he said.
Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, Nestlé and General Mills sued UEP, United Egg Marketers and 11 egg producers last December in U.S. District Court in northern Illinois claiming UEP used its certification program to control the supply and increase the price of eggs.
UEP is not engaged in price-fixing and is not trying to codify such activity, Mitch Head, UEP spokesman, has said.
UEP members have paid at least $25 million to settle allegations of manipulating the price of eggs while claiming to be instituting standards for animal welfare, Miller said. In 2010, egg producers Land O'Lakes, Moark and Norco Ranch agreed to a $25 million settlement of a class-action suit, according to the EggProductsSettlement.com website.
Battery cages have been so efficient that the industry has harmed itself from overproduction, Miller said. Codifying larger cages reduces density, supply and increases prices, he said. It gives UEP cover in the lawsuits, he said.
"There are ample documents in court discovery showing UEP congratulating themselves for jacking up prices through so-called animal welfare programs," he said.
"I don't see Congress jumping in the middle of these major price-fixing lawsuits and throwing states and voters' rights under the bus to make a trade association and co-opted humane organization happy," Miller said.
The bill, he noted, deprives states from banning cages and enacting laws addressing egg-industry practices.
Humane Farming Association: www.hfa.org