The Association of California Egg Farmers announced its support for a landmark bill being jointly introduced by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) in Washington, D.C., that would establish a national housing standard for egg laying hens.
"We support this bill and welcome the recognition by HSUS that California's use and support of the enriched colony system is indeed a safe and superior hen habitat," says Arnie Riebli, a Sonoma County egg farmer and president of the Association of California Egg Farmers. He adds, "This bill will greatly help our state's egg farmers compete while continuing to provide California consumers with a local, wholesome and affordable supply of eggs."
The American Farm Bureau Federation and other farm groups, however called the legislation flawed and would set a dangerous precedent by establishing federally mandated egg production practices and banning a number of other proven science-based egg production methods, according to AFBF President Bob Stallman.
"The bill ignores the science supporting the consensus among mainstream agricultural veterinarians, animal scientists and livestock producers. We see this legislation as an attempt by a radical animal rights group to legitimize a policy package that will undoubtedly be used to bully other livestock producers," he said.
The new bill would recognize the enriched colony system as the new national housing standard for laying hens instead of conventional cages. The enriched colony system enables hens to sit, stand, stretch and turn around in a clean, safe enclosure that protects hens from outside predators. The Association of California Egg Farmers has worked since the passage of Proposition 2 in 2008 strongly advocating the enriched colony system.
The colony system house provides 116 square inches of space compared to 67 square inches of space in a conventional cage. According to recently released data on hen performance in colonies versus conventional cages, eggs laid per hen in a colony house were 421 versus 399 eggs per hen in a conventional cage. In addition, mortality rates were lower in the colony housing system than a cage system.
"Passing this bill would be a historic improvement for hundreds of millions of animals per year," says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States in a statement announcing the agreement. "It is always our greatest hope to find common ground and to forge solutions, even with traditional adversaries. We are excited about a new and better pathway forward and hope the Congress seizes the opportunity to embrace this sort of collaboration and mutual understanding. We extend our thanks to the producers within the industry for agreeing to make the needed investments to upgrade their housing and improve animal welfare in a meaningful way."
The Association of California Egg Farmers (ACEF) is a statewide industry trade association for California's egg farmers. California's egg farmers produce nearly 5 billion eggs a year, providing a fresh, affordable source of food and making California the fifth largest egg producer in the country.