Abuse video roils egg industry
HSUS accused of releasing video to spur on legislation
By DAN WHEAT
An undercover video alleging abusive conditions at a Pennsylvania egg farm has widened a split within the industry over legislation supported by the Humane Society of the United States.
The video, released by HSUS on April 12, alleges abuse at Kreider Farms of Manheim, Pa., and sparked a furious backlash from some egg producers, who see it as part of a legislative push to get a bill mandating cage sizes through Congress.
"Because it is failing to persuade a majority of Congress to pass its anti-farming agenda, including an inch-by-inch mandate of hen housing sizes that will significantly raise consumer costs, HSUS has now resorted to dirty, underhanded tactics to intimidate and coerce family egg farmers nationwide," Egg Farmers of America, an industry group, said in a statement.
After years of battle, HSUS and another industry group, United Egg Producers, negotiated an agreement to work together for passage of House Resolution 3798, which would set federal standards for hen welfare, including larger cages.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., has 52 co-sponsors but has failed to gain a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, where the chairman and ranking member oppose it.
A companion bill will be introduced in the Senate soon, and the legislation could be included in a new farm bill, said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farming Campaign for HSUS.
Tyson Redpath, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for Egg Farmers of America said United Egg Producers has told its members they would not be targeted for undercover videos.
"UEP, I understand, has alerted its members that they will be shielded from underground investigative videos," Redpath said. "So the message is clear. If you are not a member of UEP, you are fair game."
Mitch Head, UEP spokesman, confirmed HSUS has agreed not to conduct underground investigations of egg farmers who support the bill.
The agreement between HSUS and UEP to work for the legislation expires at the end of June.
In its press release, Kreider said it is not a member of UEP but supports the bill because the company has state-of-the-art facilities that meet the bill's requirements.
Shapiro said Kreider had not taken a position on the egg bill before the video was released.
The video is a "gross distortion" and there is no evidence it was shot inside Kreider facilities, the company's release states.
"We have ample evidence it was from there," Shapiro said. Evidence includes photos of workers in Kreider uniforms, he said.
The video can be seen on the HSUS website and YouTube.
Redpath, of the Egg Farmers of America, said the group has about a dozen family egg farmer members in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. He said Amon Baer, owner of Mendelson Egg Co., Lake Park, Minn., is a leader of the group.
The group terminated its use of The Russell Group that Redpath works for and kept a low profile earlier in the year because "threats of intimidation, coercion and reprisal were so palpable," Redpath said.
"Very soon UEP will hear from a number of egg farmers and even its members and members of other national livestock associations to drop the agreement and resist the temptation to renew or extend it," Redpath said.
Chances of that are "slim to none" as UEP will continue to work with HSUS for passage, Head said.
UEP represents about 90 percent of all egg production in the U.S.
The bill would require 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.
Most egg producers give their caged birds 67 square inches per hen. The bill requires 124 to 144 square inches.
The bill would nullify state laws and prohibit new state laws or ballot measures regulating egg production.
The bill is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, animal rights groups, egg and poultry associations in at least six states and consumer groups.
The bill is opposed by several animal rights groups as not going far enough.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and national beef, pork, turkey, sheep and milk producer associations fear a precedent that could be used to establish national production and welfare standards for other livestock.