Egg bill union silent
Observer says HSUS has no other 'face-saving option'
By DAN WHEAT
United Egg Producers may want to continue its campaign for federal egg-laying hen standards next year, but the Humane Society of the United States is not saying what it will do.
"We'll make a judgment when the Congress adjourns for this year," HSUS president Wayne Pacelle said.
After years of battling each other, HSUS and United Egg Producers, an industry group, reached an agreement in 2011 that ended HSUS-led initiative efforts in Washington and Oregon to mandate cage-free facilities. Both sides have been working for passage of companion House and Senate bills that would require egg producers throughout the country to switch to larger cages for egg-laying hens over 15 to 18 years at a cost UEP has estimated at $4 billion. The bills would supersede state laws regulating egg production.
While the bills have 151 House sponsors and 19 Senate sponsors, opponents have defeated their movement as either stand-alone bills or amendments to a new farm bill.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and other big meat and dairy trade groups argue the bills set bad precedent that could lead to national production and welfare standards for other livestock.
Those groups have been "extremely influential" in opposing the bills, Paul Shapiro, senior director of Factory Farming Campaign at HSUS, has said.
The HSUS-UEP agreement expires Dec. 31. It has not been extended and no extension is being discussed as the focus is still on passage this year, Shapiro said.
The likelihood of passage is remote, said Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Washington, D.C.
Mitch Head, spokesman for UEP, said UEP and HSUS have made commitments to continue their agreement until legislation is passed.
Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association in San Rafael, Calif., said HSUS has no other "face-saving option" than continuing its alliance with UEP.
"After raising funds and having activists gather hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify the Washington state anti-cage ballot measure, HSUS abruptly cut a deal with UEP, killed the Washington and Oregon ballot measures and publicly endorsed the very egg factory cages it had long condemned," Miller said.
HSUS claimed the deal would quickly result in federal legislation regulating cage space but it hasn't, Miller said.
The Humane Farming Association opposes the deal as a cave-in by HSUS, he said.
"Wayne Pacelle can't very well revive the aborted ballot measures," Miller said. "He killed those in exchange for nothing but air. Nor can he initiate a new campaign to outlaw egg factory cages because he's now on record as endorsing them."
The House bill, HR3798, was introduced last January by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., at the urging of Northwest egg producers. The Senate bill was introduced in May by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
While the bills have bipartisan support, most Republicans tend to be against them and the Nov. 6 general election didn't change the political dynamics, Woodall said.
If the bills are not passed this year, new legislation would have to be introduced in the next session, Woodall said. It can be harder to build momentum for a second attempt because members think twice about sponsoring the same bill again, he said.