WASHINGTON D.C.––Signing the 2013 Farm Bill into law on February 7, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama also signed the death warrant for the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, introduced in the House of Representatives as HR-1731 and in the Senate as S-820.
United Egg Producers president Chad Gregory on February 14, 2014 announced that UEP will no longer will seek passage of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, and that the UEP and Humane Society of the U.S. will not extend the memorandum of understanding to pursue passage of the amendments that they have followed since July 2011.
The amendments would have phased in colony caging similar to the caging now required in the European Union as the egg industry standard for the U.S., in place of the smaller battery cages that have predominated for more than 50 years.
The memo of understanding originated from the success of HSUS and Farm Sanctuary in passing Proposition Two in California in 2008, which at the time was promoted as a measure to require cage-free housing for egg-laying hens. The American Humane Association, however, in June 2010 undercut the intent of the California initiative by agreeing with the egg producer J.S. West that the initiative language prohibiting battery caging would allow the use of European-style colony cages.
HSUS had underwritten an initiative campaign in Ohio that included language about hen housing similar to the language of Proposition Two. Twelve days after the AHA/J.S. West agreement was announced, HSUS accepted a deal with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation that included a pledge that the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board would not permit any new construction of battery cage facilities for laying hens.
Campaigns to place initiatives against battery caging on the Washington and Oregon state ballots appeared to enjoy public favor, but were sidetracked when the AHA and the Oregon Humane Society joined agribusiness in pushing bills through the Washington and Oregon legislatures which leave laying hens in conventional battery cages until 2026, after which enriched colony caging must be used.
HSUS then withdrew the Washington and Oregon initiative petitions as part of the July 2011 deal with UEP.
“Enriched colony housing represents the future. We are encouraged to see these contemporary houses being constructed throughout the U.S.,” Gregory said, adding that the “This doesn’t mean that UEP and HSUS will quit talking.”
“UEP still supports Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, but doesn’t think they are viable in this Congress,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told ANIMALS 24-7. “We are going to continue to add cosponsors, but we’ll be defending Proposition Two and AB 1437,” the California law that prohibits selling eggs in California that were not produced in conditions meeting the Proposition Two requirements. “We’ll be doing outreach to encourage food retailers to go cage-free,” Pacelle added. “We aren’t putting all of our eggs in the Congressional basket, given the steep climb we face there.”
Pacelle credited U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) with trying to include the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments in the 2013 Farm Bill. “However,” Pacelle said, “several farm state Senators, taking their cue from the beef and pork lobbies, said they would try to bring the entire Farm Bill down if the egg bill was included. In the interest of moving the Farm Bill forward, Stabenow and the primary author of the egg bill, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) reluctantly acceded.
“When the Farm Bill was heading to the floor in the House of Representatives,” Pacelle continued, “Representatives Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) and Jeff Denham (R-California) proposed adding the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments to it, and we believed we had more than enough votes to pass the measure. But the House Rules Committee denied Denham and Schrader the opportunity to have a floor vote.
“We are now less than a year away from the implementation of Proposition Two in California,” Pacelle said. “Missouri attorney general Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit against the California attorney general because he wants to allow Missouri producers to sell their eggs in California no matter how miserably their birds are confined. We’ll fight his attempt to undercut the rules of the state of California with all our might. Meanwhile, we’ll be asking major food retailers in California to get ready to start exclusively selling cage-free eggs in California.”
The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments were endorsed by Farm Sanctuary as well as HSUS, but were opposed by the Humane Farming Association, Friends of Animals, United Poultry Concerns, PETA, Last Chance for Animals, In Defense of Animals, and at least 20 regional organizations involved in advocacy for poultry welfare.
“Even though the federal egg bill is now dead, you can be absolutely sure that HSUS will not be reviving any of its anti-cage ballot measures as they previously claimed they would,” charged Humane Farming Association founder Brad Miller. Miller called the collapsed pact with UEP “primarily a smokescreen to cover HSUS abandonment of anti-cage ballot measures,” and said the HSUS promotion of cage-free housing in California is “face-saving double-talk, because HSUS simultaneously contends that modified battery cages are also acceptable.”
Farm Sanctuary senior police director Bruce Friedrich noted that long before the filing by Missouri attorney general Chris Koster, Proposition Two “has been subjected to years of legal challenge in state and federal courts. Critics of the ban continue to argue that the law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not spell out the exact dimensions for allowable cages,” Friedrich summarized. “But the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in 2012 ruled that the law offers ‘more than a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited and provides explicit and objective standards to prevent discriminatory enforcement.’”
In the current case, Koster contends that banning the sale of eggs in California that do not meet the Proposition Two standards violates the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, often called the “commerce clause.”
Noted Friedrich, “Koster’s theory was already rejected by a district court in California, and rejected again by a unanimous panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The latter case, which concluded six months ago, involved California’s ban on liver pate from force-fed ducks. Producers from New York and Canada made precisely the argument Koster is making, and the court rejected it, citing three U.S. Supreme Court cases and multiple circuit court cases.”