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Standards for Hens Worry Other Livestock Groups

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Stabenow is getting pressure from livestock groups to remove national standards for egg-laying hens from her draft of the Senate farm bill.

Wall said the livestock industry’s suspicions about creeping federal regulation of on-farm and ranch animal practices is not far-fetched. He noted that animal welfare groups have pushed commercial buyers such as McDonald’s USA to require farmers and other suppliers to end the use of gestation stalls for housing pregnant sows if they want to sell to the company. McDonald’s executives said that by 2022 it will not buy pork from suppliers still using the stalls.

“Everything they do in the private sector is geared to passing a federal law. The reason this (egg agreement) affects us is that HSUS sees this as their blueprint. Businesses change their minds (about standards). Consumers change their minds. It is more difficult to change federal law,” Wall said.

Earlier this week, Stabenow told representatives of the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the American Farm Bureau she planned to include the UEP-Humane Society agreement in her chairman’s mark.

“Egg producers are struggling with a patchwork of regulations that vary from state to state, and having one uniform national standard is critically important to them,” Stabenow spokesman Cullen Schwarz said in an email.

Egg producers in Michigan, a top 10 egg-producing state, support putting the national agreement in federal law which, if approved, would pre-empt more stringent requirements voters approved in a ballot initiative. The agreement also would supersede similar state laws on laying hens in Ohio, Oregon and Washington.

The legislation would allow California to proceed with requirements that state egg producers use larger cages by 2015. However, the state could not impose similar requirements for production on out-of-state egg farmers or keep them from selling into the California. Federal legislation would pre-empt California law in that area.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced bills (S 820, HR 1731) to codify the United Egg Producers-Humane Society agreement. Stabenow is a co-sponsor of the Feinstein bill.

Schrader, a former veterinarian who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, introduced similar legislation last year. He found few allies on the committee when the panel wrote its farm bill. Instead, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would have prevented states such as California from requiring out-of-state agricultural goods to meet their agricultural production and manufacturing laws in order to be sold in their jurisdictions. Iowa is the nation’s top egg and pork producing state.

Each party in the agreement has dissenters in their ranks. Some egg farmers believe the agreement goes too far and is too expensive, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Farming Association have said it does not go far enough to improve conditions for hens.

Despite the dissent, Joe Miller, a United Egg Producer member and general counsel for Rose Acre Farms, which is among the nation’s largest egg operations, said putting the agreement into statute would provide his industry with uniform standards and end state-level ballot initiatives that set different requirements. It also would end costly battles with the Humane Society.

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