Let’s make the lives of 280 million laying hens significantly better

In an episode of my favorite TV show of all time, Seinfeld, George wonders if chickens have individual personalities. He says that if they do, we probably shouldn’t eat them.

Well, they do have their own personalities, and while whether or not to eat them is an individual choice, there is something all of us can do to significantly improve the lives of the 280 million hens involved in egg production in the US.

HR 3798 and S. 3239 – Egg Products Inspection Amendments Act of 2012 – is federal legislation that would reform the US egg industry.

The House bill was introduced in January and currently has 139 bipartisan cosponsors. The Senate version was introduced in May, also with many bipartisan cosponsors, and both need strong support to pass.

The legislation, which would be the first national legislation to cover farmed animals, will improve conditions for hundreds of millions of animals. Here’s why it’s so important. H.R. 3798 and S. 3239:

• demand better information for the consumer. All cartons will be labeled according to the systems used, so consumers know if the eggs they are buying come from caged hens.

• prohibit the use of empty battery cages, double the amount of space per bird, and prohibit many inhumane practices such as forced molting due to starvation.

• benefit small farmers because they do not use battery cages. The bills will make them more competitive because it will cost industrialized factory farms more money. However, even these huge egg farms support this legislation because they are tired of the uncertainty and state-by-state pressures.

• promote the supply of healthy food. Healthy food equals healthy people equals reduced health care costs while empowering the small farmer. This could open the door for Indiana farmers to provide healthier food with a higher margin and reduced production costs.

• support an already demonstrated trend. For example, Burger King just committed to sourcing 100% cage-free eggs by 2017. Like Burger King, the beef industry is beginning to recognize the value of humane treatment and the use of natural foods. or organic, regardless of legislation. Support for this bill will not affect the beef industry and should not produce any lasting backlash.

This is a conventional bill supported by farm groups, including the United Egg Producers and state egg and poultry associations; by consumer groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumers League; as well as by all the major national animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The proposal would require egg producers to increase space per hen in a gradual phase over the next 15 to 18 years. Instead of five hens in an 18-by-20-inch wire cage (where the animals can’t spread a wing or do anything natural with them), 50-60 hens will be in a 4-by-12-foot cage, which is a big improvement. Within a year, the bill will stop the starvation of some 50 million chickens a year.

An independent survey by Bantam Group found that consumers support HR 3798 by a four-to-one margin, prefer a federal standard over state standards by a two-to-one margin, and support the empty battery cage transition by a margin from 12 to one.

Contact your representatives in Congress today for urgent support and co-sponsorship of this critical legislation.

There’s another episode of Seinfeld decrying the evils of cockfighting, but that’s another story for another time.

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