Cage-free eggs measure shelved in Oregon after national agreement reached

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Back in April, it appeared that Oregon voters would be considering a ballot measure in 2012 that would boost the amount of space provided to egg-laying chickens. The measure was supported by the Humane Society of the United States and Congressman Earl Blumenauer - who had determined that legislation negotiated by the Oregon Humane Society, Senate President Peter Courtney, and the egg industry was too much of a compromise.

But now, the plans for a 2012 ballot measure have been shelved - both in Oregon and Washington. The reason? HSUS reached an agreement with the egg industry to support federal legislation for a national standard on treatment of egg-laying chickens.

From CNN:

Today, The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers announced in a joint statement that they will work together to urge U.S. lawmakers to craft legislation overseeing the living conditions of the 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production. This would mark the first federal law regulating the treatment of animals on farms.

Among the proposed standards would be living quarters allowing 124-144 square inches of space (most currently receive 67 square inches, and some 50 million reside in 48 square inches) for each chicken, environments that allow birds to express "natural behaviors" in boxes, scratching areas and perches, and a reduction in excessive ammonia levels in hen houses.

Additionally, the statement called for a cessation of practices that extend the laying cycle by prohibiting food and water levels (a practice frowned upon by most of the industry) as well as an extension of label requirements to inform customers if they are buying “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” or “eggs from free-range hens.”

Eggs and egg products not meeting these standards would be barred from sale nationwide.

There's more from the Oregonian and the Associated Press.

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    I appreciate what Earl and the humane society are trying to do here, and I understand the economics of this and the importance of having inexpensive protein sources to keep people fed, but I want to put this into context:

    Here's what the current law allows.

    Here's a photo of 3 hens in a cage that looks like it would meet the new statutory requirements.

    Here's what a cage free poultry house looks like.

    Here's a fairly typical backyard chicken setup.

    Which eggs would you rather eat?

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      Sal, when you say "new statutory requirements" are you talking about the new Oregon law (which Earl and HSUS opposed) or the national agreement which is not yet law?

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        Apologies. I meant the requirements of the proposed federal statute. This cage looks to be about 400-600 square inches for 3 birds, so this would appear to meet that aspect of the law, although this particular cage clearly does not include perches nor does it offer something other than wire for them to stand on.

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          This is a live web cam of the cage system that will be required under the recently-passed Oregon law and under the federal legislative concept put forward by HSUS and UEP:

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            Thanks for that, Ryan. Definitely an improvement for the birds, given the roosting space and some solid flooring.

            Still, anyone who cares about the humane treatment of these animals and can afford to pay $2.50 - $3.50 a dozen instead of $1.50 would do well to buy local free range eggs from a farmer's market.

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      Sal, the link to the cage free poultry house looks to be of a broiler grower. The birds look to be close to harvest size, which is when they're at their highest stocking rate (by square feet per bird) because of size of bird vs square footage of the building. When the day old chicks are first placed in the house, they have a huge ammount of space, because, obviously, they're much smaller, even though there are more birds total at first placement than at harvest due to expected mortality over the grow out period.

      While I'm sure that the stocking rate in a cage free layer house is pretty high, I don't think that it's as high as a broiler house just prior to harvest.

      Backyard chickens are a great thing, but a commercial farm keeping layers in an outdoor free range system is hardly like a back yard chicken system, although it's orders of magnitude closer than either cage free indoor or a larger colony cage system.

      There are also quality differences between caged, cage free (depending on how and what the birds are fed) and free range eggs. Of the 3, it's the free range eggs that are the strongest flavored and have the richest yolks. And that's completely due to the feeds and forages that the birds eat.

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    As a person who has signed a petition that would allow a vote on this issue I wonder who in their most generous frame of mind thinks that anything that a Republican controlled House will legislate will resolve the problems that are depicted in Sal's links.

    Further clarification on the role that Earl played here would be useful.

    Keep in mind that following the 2012 elections that Republicans will control the whitehouse, they already do, the Senate, because of voter disgust with Obama and there will be a bigger majority of Republican control in the House.

    Because Obama is a disaster for America and the Democrats have no plan or purpose why should we celebrate a further loss of State's rights?

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      Presumably, Marvin, if the federal legislation goes nowhere, then HSUS will be back to actively push it at the state level.

      And as for "state's rights", a national standard for egg production is exactly what the framers meant when they gave Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

      There's much about modern society that the framers wouldn't understand, but egg-laying chickens? I'm pretty sure they had those back then.

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    Thanks, Kari, I do not recall that my comments demonstrated a lack of knowledge about chickens laying eggs in the eighteenth century. At the same time I think that when a state or states learn that after decades of neglect to an issue that they prefer to set a higher standard their right to use a democratic process should be respected.

    I think that laying an egg is what you have done by embracing a "victory" for animal rights when no indication to a person who is pragmatic in their obsevations of legislation by a Republican controlled government warrants a celebration.

    Guess that waiting for the chickens to come home to roost is something we will both watch; care to make a wager on the outcome?

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      In other words, you think HSUS just got scammed by the egg industry.

      Fair enough. I don't think they are quite that gullible or incompetent.

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    Again, Kari, I did not say that HSUS were scammed by anyone. I stated clearly that the outcome of legislation in a Republican controlled government is doubtful if the considerations of rational people are taken into consideration.

    You can blame it on a deliberate attempt to create cognitive dissonance. Today, the President acknowledged the fact that Social Security plays no part in the budget defecit and yet wants to continue a reduction in payroll taxes. Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Geithner opposed infrastructure in the stimulus; nearly four hundred billion in tax cuts were included.

    The difficulty that you, Kari, and I are having is that I am a fact based person who values reason. You appear to be motivated by the success of Democratic candidates in Oregon who use your services. Your loyalty is respected. Your tunnel vision will bite your ass.

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      "Today, the President acknowledged the fact that Social Security plays no part in the budget deficit and yet wants to continue a reduction in payroll taxes."

      Your juxtaposition of these causes me cognitive dissonance. Not that I agree with the policy, but temporary reduction in withholding is meant to stimulate economic activity, not increase nor decrease the budget deficit [short term, anyway].

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    Tom, while your cognitive dissonance is incidental to the issues at hand it is a deliberate policy choice of the Obama administration. A remedy for you is to regain touch with the fundamental point I have attempted to make. That is, the failure to legislate. Read Jane Hamsher today on Firedoglake.

    Reducing withholding weakens Social Security and required an additional one hundred ten billion in borrowing. By extending Bush tax cuts Obama added four trillion to debt over ten years.

    So, he is now proposing cuts to Social Security and other cuts totaling four trillion dollars.

    Embracing supply side economics, which is what you appear to be doing, does not cause me further dissonance. Only further sadness. Because it destroys America and I love this country.

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    Marvin and Tom, what does this have to do with laying hens getting a little more leg room?

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