Pacelle took over the Humane Society of the United States in 2004 and gave the animal rights movement a moderate face it had been lacking under the leadership of other groups.
According to the United Egg Producers, a proliferation of state standards is creating chaos for producers, who often ship throughout the country. The Humane Society agreed to stop pursuing additional state measures as part of the deal with the egg producers. But, if federal standards are not enacted, the deal is off. Then, as happened with pork producers, pressure is likely to increase on the egg industry from retailers and restaurants.
“If this agreement in Congress is not codified, you will likely see efforts in the food retail sector that mirror those on the pork issue,” Pacelle said. “We would be forced to resume that effort.”
Cattle and hog producers fear hen standards would set a precedent for regulating their industries, too. Federal law is largely silent on how livestock is treated, except for regulations requiring that hogs and cattle be slaughtered humanely, and those industries are fighting the egg producers over standards for hen housing.
Egg producers must still get Congress to write the standards into law, and so far they’ve had little success. The effort is likely to resume next year, assuming Congress doesn’t pass a farm bill in the lame-duck session.
Democratic leaders wouldn’t allow the standards to be proposed as an amendment to the Senate-passed farm bill (S 3240). Egg producers then pinned their hopes on getting the standards debated on the House floor as an amendment to the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill (HR 6083), but that measure won’t be brought to the floor now.
House and Senate Agriculture committee leaders now are trying to write a compromise bill behind closed doors that could be passed as part of an agreement to avert the fiscal cliff. In the event that happens, there is unlikely to be any chance to add the egg standards, a prospect that would be just fine with other livestock sectors.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, sees the standards as giving in to the Humane Society even though egg producers in Iowa want them: “It comes down to, ‘Do we want the animal rights activists telling the food producers how to produce food?’”
The egg industry remains unbowed.
“Whether it’s now — during the lame duck — or whether it is next year due to an extension of the farm bill, we’re absolutely, 100 percent committed to getting the egg bill passed,” said Chad Gregory of the United Egg Producers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., have introduced bills (S 3239, HR 3798) that would amend federal poultry law with the provisions of the agreement reached between the egg producers and the Humane Society. No action has been taken on either bill, although Senate Agriculture did have a hearing on Feinstein’s bill in July.
“This legislation protects restaurants, bakers, food processors and American consumers from unnecessarily high egg prices. It protects egg producers from having eggs they can’t sell,” Feinstein said in a floor speech in May. “This legislation is a reasonable, widely supported solution to a real, costly and growing problem.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.