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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Bill for Hens Provides New Pathway Forward

A year ago at the president’s State of the Union address, Democrats and Republicans sat together, in a show of solidarity for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., severely injured at a mass shooting in her district. Tonight’s address is likely to be very different in tone, and in fact, the unity and cohesion briefly exhibited last year on Capitol Hill has largely waned. It’s rare to see lawmakers of different parties and different viewpoints talking to each other, let alone sitting together.

It’s this backdrop of ideological gridlock and deepening partisan divides that makes yesterday’s introduction of H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, especially stand out as politically unique. The main supporters of the legislation are the United Egg Producers, which represents 88% of the nation’s egg industry, and The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal welfare organization. The bill was introduced by a bipartisan group led by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., the only veterinarian in Congress, with Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012
Take action to support H.R. 3798.

The bill will codify an agreement between The HSUS and UEP to phase out barren battery cages and replace them with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen with nearly double the amount of current space; require environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas, allowing hens to express natural behaviors; mandate labeling on egg cartons to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens” or “eggs from cage-free hens”; and provide other improvements such as banning forced starvation molting and prohibiting excessive ammonia levels in henhouses.

The HSUS and UEP have been long-time adversaries, but have come together and identified a solution for housing 280 million laying hens that balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry. As Rep. Schrader noted, “I take my hat off to both organizations for putting aside their historical differences and working together to reach a deal that provides certainty for our farmers while providing improved conditions for the hens.”

While all the credible animal protection groups strongly support this bill—including HSLF, the ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Mercy for Animals, and several others—there are a few fringe critics who sit on the sidelines and carp about how it doesn’t go far enough. They have no pathway of reform to suggest, only obstructionism and piety. They don’t understand the political dynamics that exist, and that this bill can bring real relief to these animals who are suffering in the here and now and need our help.

The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace an agreement between all the major stakeholders. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support H.R. 3798, which will not only improve the treatment of hundreds of millions of hens, but will also send a message that our country can find bipartisan solutions even to the most difficult and divisive problems.

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