Egg-laying hens

This 2008 photo shows chickens in their cages at an egg processing plant in California. Oregon, Washington and California now have laws requiring cage-free environments for hens.

The farm bill doesn’t include the so-called King amendment, which means California’s Proposition 2 and other state laws regulating animal welfare are safe.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was in response to Prop 2, which requires egg-laying hens be housed in larger cages by 2015 and that any eggs sold in the state meet the same standard. King views that as unconstitutional, saying states have no right to regulate producers in other states. His amendment would have prevented states from regulating goods and livestock raised in one state for sale in other states.

The Humane Society of the United States opposed the King amendment, saying it would adversely affect state animal protection laws, including Prop 2 and laws in Oregon and Washington phasing in larger, enriched-colony cages for egg-laying hens.

HSUS and United Egg Producers have said they will keep seeking legislation setting federal standards for the welfare of egg-laying hens. Their Egg Products Inspection Act would require egg producers switch to larger cages over 15 to 18 years at a cost UEP has estimated at $4 billion. The act would supersede state laws regulating egg production. The act has failed to pass or get included in the farm bill the past two years due to opposition from pork and beef producers, who fear it sets a precedent of federal intrusion in livestock management.

It has also been opposed by the Humane Farming Association, PETA and about 20 other animal rights groups that say it does not do enough to protect hens.

The Humane Farming Association, in San Francisco, issued a news release Jan. 28 celebrating that the farm bill does not include the egg bill. It noted HSUS backs larger cages it once opposed.

Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, said UEP and HSUS claim states’ rights in opposing the King amendment but attack states’ rights in pre-empting state laws with their egg bill. He said the King amendment would not nullify Prop 2.

In the news release, Miller said the egg bill would provide legal cover for UEP and several of the egg companies it represents that have been repeatedly sued for alleged illegal price-fixing.

Recommended for you