Egg bill battle heats up in D.C.
Key Congressional support lacking in cage fight for egg-laying hens
By DAN WHEAT
A bill setting federal standards for the care of egg-laying hens is gaining support from groups and members of Congress, an aide to the bill's sponsor says.
But opponents of HR3798 say opposition is growing and that "big player members (of Congress) from serious farm country are against it."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., has said the chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee have indicated they will not support the bill. That position has not changed, said Chris Huckleberry, Schrader's aide.
Schrader is trying to build support before seeking action, Huckleberry said.
The latest endorsement is from the American Veterinary Medical Association, representing more than 82,000 veterinarians. The AVMA said welfare of animals was the most important factor in its decision.
HR3798 embodies an agreement between United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States requiring egg producers throughout the country to switch from battery cages to larger, enriched-colony cages for egg-laying hens over 15 to 18 years at a cost UEP has estimated at $4 billion. The bill would nullify state laws and prohibit new state laws or ballot measures regulating egg production.
The bill is supported by some animal rights groups but it also is opposed by several of them, including the Humane Farming Association, which say it does not do enough for egg-laying hens.
Pork, beef, turkey, sheep and milk producer associations and the American Farm Bureau Federation oppose the bill, saying it sets a precedent that could be used to establish national production and welfare standards for other livestock.
Huckleberry said the bill is supported by egg and poultry associations in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New England, North Carolina and Ohio. Support from the AVMA, Consumer Federation of America and National Consumer League show opponents' arguments that it's bad for consumers and would raise prices don't hold water, he said.
"United Egg Producers has said any increases in egg prices over the next 18 years would be negligible. The Consumer Federation recognizes that," Huckleberry said.
The support of the AVMA is a "huge deal" and "lends a lot of credibility," he said.
Newspapers are editorializing for the bill and 16 members of Congress now co-sponsor the bill, including three Republicans and five members of the Agriculture Committee, he said. The committee has 46 members. More co-sponsors are in the works, he said.
But most of the co-sponsors are not involved in agriculture and are people who "don't really know anything about ag," said Colin Woodall, vice president of governmental affairs of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"We have the Ag Committee educated and are pushing back against this bill. The big player members from serious farm country are against it. We've been successful in convincing them it's a bad idea," Woodall said.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., "has been pretty firm in saying he will not give this bill a hearing and we have no reason to think that will not be the case," he said.
The endorsement of the bill by the AVMA "is a big deal and we are very disappointed that they took that action," he said.