In late April, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that, on the surface, seemed like a slam dunk. If passed, the Egg Products Inspection Act of 2013 would set a national standard for the humane treatment of hens who lay eggs, while making sure that their yolky droplings are labeled correctly. (Note: If a band named The Yolky Droplings doesn't play The Satellite within the next calendar year, I'll be very disappointed in all of you.) Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, and Sen. Susan Collins from Maine, a Republican, giving the whole thing that rare bipartisan feel that makes everyone all warm and fuzzy inside.
To give you just a taste of it, the specifications for how hens would be treated on a national level would be as follows:
The bill would outlaw the practice of starving chickens to increase egg production, require that conventional battery cages are replaced with housing systems that almost doubles the space for each hen, and require that all egg laying hens would be provided with nesting boxes and scratching areas.
I've already spoken plenty about the need for accurate food labels, so of course the fact that labels for eggs will now be standard across state lines is some good news. And less cramped conditions for hens is another bit of happiness, especially in the wake of studies showing that eggs laid in cramped environments increases the risk of salmonella poisoning. So: Better labeling practices, less-cramped cages, Democrats and Republicans and the Human Society and the United Egg Producers all coming together to back this thing. Seems like it'd just fly through Congress without anyone talking trash about it, right?
Enter the opposition: The Humane Farming Association. They're not one bit happy about it, calling Feinstein and company's proposal "The Rotten Egg Bill."
Their general issue is that the bill allows for the use of cages at all. They say that the legislation "would establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote." (Bolding theirs.) If a state or local governing body wants to introduce a bit of legislation that'd actually make the cages roomier or allow the hens to roam around freely, they suggest, then the change would never occur because the standard's already been set. "[H]ens would be forever locked in cages," they claim. And this is where things really start to get interesting.
Enter the opposition to the opposition: The Humane Society of the U.S., who are calling out the Humane Farming Association (HSUS and HFA from now on, respectively, in order to avoid all of this "humane" confusion) for being a bit too stringent with their standards. Basically, the HSUS is calling the HFA a bunch of hippies who don't get how the real world works:
"[W]hile it condemns farm animal protection bills it thinks don't go far enough, HFA has never taken part in any campaign that has succeeded in banning any farm animal confinement practice anywhere... [A]nyone who understands the current Congress knows that passing federal legislation to outlaw all types of cages is not a realistic option."
HSUS admits that the new legislation may not be the best possible law ever created, but "having the chance to create a national standard to improve the lives of all hens in the nation is an opportunity that the animal protection movement should seize." It's a step in the right direction, in other words. The Feinstein-introduced bill helps hens way more than it hurts them. And to actually oppose legislation that makes things better now in order to hold out hope for a future that may never come shows a lack of understanding of how the government works. To summarize, they lay it on pretty thick:
The HSUS believes in tangible victories for animals, and that progress begets progress--and the federal bill on hen protection is an important advancement toward a more humane society.
Stay tuned. This is certainly going to be a fun debate to watch.
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