By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

SALEM -- Oregon egg producers could see production costs soar under legislation mandating at least 144 square inches of floor space in cages for egg-laying hens, an industry lobbyist says.

Senate Bill 805 would force most Oregon producers "out of state or out of business," Oregon Farm Bureau Government Affairs Director Katie Fast said.

Studies show transitioning to new cages would cost producers between $35 million and $100 million, Fast said.

SB805 also would ban Oregon grocery stores and other establishment from selling hard-shell eggs produced in smaller cages.

Scott Beckstead, state director of the Humane Society of the U.S., said the society limited its sales ban to in-shell eggs because of the complexity of enforcing the ban on liquid and powdered egg products.

The 144-square-inch standard represents a significant compromise for HSUS, he said.

Originally, he said, HSUS sought 216 square inches of floor space per bird.

Conventional cages, called battery cages, provide hens with about 77 square inches of floor space.

If HSUS puts an initiative before voters, Beckstead said, it may seek the 216-square-inch standard.

"We think the voters in Oregon would accept that (216 inches)," he said. "We hope it doesn't come to that."

Oregon egg producers are seeking an amendment to reduce the cage standard to 116 square inches, which is used by the American Humane Association's farm animal welfare certification program.

The association adopted the 116-square-inch standard last year as its "enriched colony housing" certification standard.

The standard "gives egg producers a second option in addition to cage-free housing as an alternative to conventional confinement cages," the association said in a press release.

Battery cages have been banned in California and Michigan pending phase-in periods. In Washington state, HSUS and Farm Sanctuary are circulating petitions to get a similar initiative on the general election ballot.

Oregon producers are also seeking a 15-year phase-in for the transition to 116-square-inch cages.

Under SB805, the new standard would take effect in 2019.

The bill creates an offense of confining egg-laying hens in cages smaller than 144 square inches, punishable by a maximum fine of $720.

The bill surfaced in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee with hearings March 29 and 31. The committee took no action on the bill.

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