Newfound allies preparing bills, meeting with aides
By DAN WHEAT
United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States won't get congressional sponsors for federal standards for egg-laying hens until after Labor Day.
"We're doing briefings, trying to catch up with congressmen who have a lot on their plates," said Mitch Head, spokesman for Georgia-based UEP.
The two former foes reached an historic agreement July 7. They are now drafting legislative proposals and talking to congressional aides and ag commodity groups about it, Head said.
UEP and HSUS hope to get Republican and Democratic sponsors from "a multitude of states" and from cities and farming regions, Head said. It will likely be sometime after Labor Day before sponsors sign on, he said.
Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farming Campaign at HSUS, said there is no definite timeline for getting sponsors. He said HSUS and UEP are working together and discussing matters with members of Congress.
UEP and HSUS have said they want to get legislation enacting their deal passed before the current Congress expires at the end of 2012.
"We think that's doable, but we understand the legislative process is somewhat complicated and time-consuming," Head said.
Bills may be introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate or just in one chamber, he said.
Head and Shapiro said they know of no other opponents to a prospective bill besides the National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Spokesmen for both have said they fear such legislation will set a precedent for animal welfare bills affecting their industries.
The July 7 agreement ends more than 10 years of legal and legislative battles between HSUS and UEP over the welfare of egg-laying hens. UEP opposed calls from HSUS for cage-free egg production systems, saying it would be too costly.
HSUS agreed to shelve initiative efforts in Washington, Oregon and any future efforts in other states, and both sides agreed not to sue each other. They said they will work together to pass new federal standards for the housing of all 280 million egg-laying hens in the nation. The standards would allow for larger, enriched colony cage housing of chickens and phase out smaller cages over 15 to 18 years at an estimated cost of $4 billion.
It would prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide not meeting those standards. Small producers likely would be exempt.
Excessive ammonia levels in hen houses would be banned, certain euthanasia standards for hens would be adopted and the practice of withholding feed and water to cause molting to extend laying cycles would be banned.