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Livestock groups, alarmed by the prospect that the Senate farm bill may include national standards for the treatment of egg-laying hens, are trying to pressure Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow to abandon the idea.
The organizations promise a floor fight if they cannot persuade the Michigan Democrat to withdraw the language or have committee members strip it from the bill at an expected markup this month. The National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent alerts to members this week to call their congressional delegations, especially if their lawmakers sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Scott George, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said his organization would work to defeat the entire farm bill if it goes to the floor with language codifying an agreement United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States signed in 2011.
“That’s how strongly we feel about it,” George said.
Livestock groups may not have the political muscle to sink the bill by themselves, but they were joined last year by the American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union and National Milk Producers Federation in successfully opposing codification of the agreement.
The agreement language would apply only to egg producers and would amend current federal law on egg production to require farmers to complete the transition to larger cages for housing hens by 2029. The agreement also requires product labels for consumers indicating production conditions and calls for hen house air quality and ammonia standards; a ban on sales of shell eggs and egg products from operations that do not meet new cage standards; and sets euthanasia standards for egg-laying hens.
“We don’t think that government officials are the best people to start prescribing how we care and house our animals,” George said. “The people in the production practices are the experts. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”Reaching Beyond Hens
Other livestock and farm groups say that if the agreement becomes law, an emboldened Humane Society and other animal welfare groups might pursue federal legislation to regulate their operations. Many in animal agriculture view animal welfare groups — the well-funded and aggressive Humane Society in particular — as activists or extremists determined to end the food animal industry.
“They think animal abuse is eating a pork chop at night,” said Chris Wall, assistant vice president for government affairs for the National Pork Producers Council.