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Friday, May 10, 2013

With Farm Bill Looming, Make a Call to Help Hens

As the House and Senate agriculture committees are both scheduled to take up the Farm Bill next week, there is much at stake for animal welfare. The Senate draft of the bill includes a provision to crack down on people who attend and bring children to dogfights and cockfights, based on the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. Federal law enforcement must have the needed tools—as state law enforcement already has in 49 states—to take action against those who are fueling the industry with their blood money, and to make sure that they and the perpetrators who blend into the crowd when the feds arrive don’t get off scot-free. We are grateful to Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., for including the animal fighting legislation in their draft, and we hope the Senate and House both approve it in the final Farm Bill.

HensAs David Rogers reported in Politico, however, the Senate bill does not include legislation based on an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups to improve the treatment of laying hens. The Washington lobbyists for the beef and pork industries have been attacking the legislation, even though the egg bill focuses on that commodity only. They just don’t like any animal welfare policies at the state or federal levels, and they fear any “precedent” regardless of how reasonable the standards are. Never mind that federal law already includes standards on transport and slaughter of livestock, that these same industries are all too happy to take federal tax dollars in the form of subsidies and to have federal laws covering various other aspects of animal agriculture policy, and that the only industry that is actually impacted by this egg legislation is strongly in favor of it.

The bill amends the Egg Products Inspection Act—which has never dealt with beef or pork—and would provide each laying hen with nearly double the current amount of space, along with environmental enrichments such as nests, perches, and scratching pads so they can engage in more natural behaviors. It would also ban inhumane practices such as forced starvation molting, and create an egg carton labeling program so consumers have more clear and reliable information in the marketplace about how hens were raised. When adversaries come together and provide a solution that is good for animals, good for consumers, and good for egg producers, it should be a no-brainer for Congress, and shouldn’t be scuttled due to the petulant caterwauling of unaffected parties on the sidelines.

We are working hard to find a pathway to get this legislation passed. Now is the time to take action and tell your two U.S. senators and U.S. representative to support the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, S. 820 and H.R. 1731. Please call them today at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support this common-sense legislation to help consumers, farmers, and hundreds of millions of animals.

Meanwhile, the House committee is likely to consider an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that is a direct attack not only on the egg industry legislation but also on all animal welfare laws. The King amendment seeks to nullify state laws on animal issues, but doesn’t replace them with any uniform federal standard as a reasonable alternative, as the egg legislation would do. It’s a massive overreach, and could have an impact not only on state laws dealing with factory farming, but also shark finning, horse slaughter, puppy mills, and any subject related to food safety, labor, and environmental standards for agricultural products. The people who are saying the federal government has no business being involved in animal welfare apparently don’t think the states or their voters should have any say either—it’s an attack on states’ rights and should be vigorously opposed, especially when there is such a rational alternative put forward by the industry that’s impacted.

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