The proposed uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens is set forth in the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments
of 2012 (H.R. 3798 and S. 3239). In addition to entrenching cages as the primary housing system for egg-laying hens in the U.S. in the 21st
century, three related provisions are noteworthy:
1. Preemption of state laws
2. No criminal penalties for noncompliance
3. Space per hen phase-ins: Implementation & enforcement?
Preemption of state laws
by the federal standard for the housing of egg-laying hens. The federal standard if enacted will prevent states from passing laws with better
housing standards for egg-laying hens within the state. As written, it appears that states could not legally impose lower housing standards, but
they could not impose higher standards either. According to Section 4 of H.R. 3798, different housing standards “may not be imposed by any
State or local jurisdiction.”
No criminal penalties for noncompliance. The lack of criminal penalties for failure to comply with the proposed national standard would legalize a standard of accountability as low as or
lower than state anticruelty laws for farmed animals – “lower” meaning No Criminal Penalty for an egg company that fails to
comply with the law. Given that neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the egg industry cares about the hens apart from their commercial
use, what incentives would compel them to uphold a toothless law, and if they didn’t, what then?
Floor space per hen phase-ins. Between the date of enactment of the proposed federal law and January 1, 2030, when the law would formally go into effect, there are several
phase-in points leading to the ultimate space allotment per hen of 124 square inches for white hens (less than one square foot per hen) and 144
square inches for brown hens (one square foot per hen). Most egg-industry hens in the U.S. are white hens. This means that if the proposed law were
implemented 15 years after the date of enactment, white hens would receive less than one square foot of living space per hen, and brown hens, being
a little larger, would get an additional 20 square inches amounting to one square foot per hen, even though a hen requires a minimum of 1.5 square
feet, or 216 square inches, merely to engage in minimal “normal behavior.”
Between the date of enactment and the date of implementation, there are two transitional tracks of square inches per hen phase-ins: one track for white hens and one track for brown hens. In addition, there are two categories of floor space per
hen: one for hens housed in existing cage systems (in use up through and including December 31, 2011) and one for hens housed in new cage systems (not in use on or before December 31, 2011).
According to the proposed federal law, brown hens housed in existing cage systems could be legally allotted 76 square inches of floor space per hen
for the next 18 years, and white hens housed in existing cage systems could be legally allotted 67 square inches of floor space per hen for the
next 18 years.
For hens housed in new cage systems, minimum floor space transition allotments are described in the proposed law as follows:
Caged White Hens
Between 3 and 6 years after the date of enactment: 78 square inches per hen.
Between 6 and 9 years after the date of enactment: 90 square inches per hen.
Between 9 and 12 years after the date of enactment: 101 square inches per hen.
Between 12 and 15 years after the date of enactment: 113 square inches per hen.
Beginning 15 after the date of enactment: 124 square inches per hen.
Caged Brown Hens
Between 3 and 6 years after the date of enactment: 90 square inches per hen.
Between 6 and 9 years after the date of enactment: 102 square inches per hen.
Between 9 and 12 years after the date of enactment: 116 square inches per hen.
Between 12 and 15 years after the date of enactment: 130 square inches per hen.
Beginning 15 years after the date of enactment: 144 square inches per hen – one square foot.
A question is: how would these two parallel tracks of incremental cage space phase-ins over an 18-year period (one track for caged brown hens,
another for caged white hens) be implemented to ensure that the increments of 67 to 78 to 90 to 101 to 113 to 124 square inches per each individual
white hen, and 90 to 102 to 116 to 130 to 144 square inches per each individual brown hen, were being complied with and complied with on schedule?
How will they be measured among the thousands of buildings and cages and millions of hens, initially and over time?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would administer the federal law. According to Feedstuffs July 3, 2012, “The agreement
would add just minimum costs to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget for surveys to enforce the transition, i.e., make sure that
producers are hitting phase-in points.”
For an idea of how these USDA “enforcement surveys” might be carried out, in 1994 the USDA published “A Survey of Stunning
Methods Currently Used During Slaughter of Poultry in Commercial Poultry Plants.”* The survey (they reported) showed “widespread use of
humane methods of slaughter in the Nation’s slaughter plants.” The survey was conducted entirely by phone and fax! The report of
“widespread use of humane methods of slaughter” was both unverified and false. USDA simply took a slaughter operator’s word that
birds at a particular plant were being slaughtered “humanely.” In addition, poultry were not then and are not now “stunned”
or slaughtered humanely in U.S. slaughter plants (see www.upc-online.org/slaughter for poultry
For our previous posts on the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, including a link to H.B. 3798, please see Proposed Legislation for Egg-Laying Hens: An Update 7 June 2012.
*Heath, George E., et al. 1994. A Survey of Stunning Methods Currently Used During Slaughter of Poultry in Commercial Poultry Plants. Journal of Applied Poultry Research 3:297-302.