Historical Agreement Could Make The Lives Of Egg-Laying Hens Less Torturous

Written by Becky Villaneda

A partnership between the country’s main egg industry organization, the United Egg Producers (UEG), which represents farmers who own about 80 percent of the nation’s laying hens, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has launched an effort to propose a federal law that would require larger cages and other improved conditions for 280 million egg-laying hens.

If enacted, it would define the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms, according to the HSUS.

The current standards have hens crammed in cages that prevents them from flapping their wings, build a nest, perch, dust bathe, or perform many other natural behaviors. According to many animal rights groups, farm animals are the most abused animals in the world. Many nonprofits like the Farm Sanctuary were founded to fight for these voiceless creatures that are treated as commodities with no regard to their well being.

Animals in factory farms are crowded in warehouses, and confined so tightly that they cannot walk, turn around or lie down comfortably. Many animals are even de-beaked, de-toed, tail-docked—without anesthesia—and overall neglected and denied the very basics of life.

According to the HSUS website, if passed, the law would:

  • Eliminate new construction of barren battery cages, and replace the existing cages, through a phase-in, with new “enriched colony cage” housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they’re currently allotted. (And unlike battery cages, these are generally 12-foot-long, four-foot-wide enclosures.)
  • Require that these new cages provide environmental enrichments that will allow hens to engage in important natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas.
  • Mandate labeling on all egg cartons to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from cage-free hens” or “eggs from free-range hens.”
  • Prohibit forced molting through starvation, which involves withholding all food from birds for up to two weeks in order to manipulate the laying cycle.
  • Mandate euthanasia standards for spent hens.
  • Prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses.
  • Prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.

However, other quests the HSUS is striving for would have to take a back seat to this initiative, including banning cages entirely and performing undercover investigations at large egg farms.

Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection at the HSUS told that the nonprofit’s position hasn’t changed on banning cages for laying hens, but its simply not an option at this point, especially in the larger egg-producing states.

“There’s no doubt that we’d prefer for there to be no cages, but keep in mind: The vast majority of U.S. egg-laying hens live in states where we have no pathway to provide them with any legal protection whatsoever (i.e. there’s no ballot measure option in those states),” Shapiro explained. “It’s not a choice at this time between leaving them in cages or getting cage-free systems. It’s a choice between leaving them in unbearably cramped, barren cages or getting them at least into colony systems (where the enclosure is 12 feet long by four feet wide, has double the space per bird as today, and has environmental enrichment).”

“No one claims it’s even close to ideal, but it’s better than the alternative. As well, getting federal legal protection for animals while on factory farms—especially chickens, who have no federal protection at any point in their lives—will be a monumental shift. If we can get this law enacted, we’ll be taking a very important step forward,” he continued.

If passed this federal legislation would also preempt efforts in several states, including in Washington and Oregon, to set their own standards, according to an article from the New York Times.

So what does it mean for the 2008-enacted California Proposition 2, which prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner where they cannot sit, stand up, fully extend their limbs or turn around freely? California Prop. 2 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015 and farming operations have until that date to comply with the new space requirements for their animals. The proposed federal statute will prohibit animals in California from being confined in a proscribed manner thereafter.

“This agreement includes a provision that California will still have to be in compliance by 2015, when Prop. 2 would have taken effect,” Shapiro said. “It also will apply to the sale of eggs in California by 2015, similar to (California’s Assembly Bill) 1437.”

When asked why hens were at the forefront of enacting a federal law, Shapiro simply said, “Perhaps the egg industry’s leadership is more amenable on this issue than the pork industry’s.”

To see what really happens to these sentient beings in order to provide people a scrambled egg for breakfast, watch this unsettling video:
Warning: Video is Graphic


“HSUS, Egg Industry Agree to Promote Federal Standards for Hens : The Humane Society of the United States.” The Humane Society of the United States : The Humane Society of the United States. 7 July 2011. Web. 11 July 2011. .

Neuman, William. “Egg Producers and Humane Society Urging Federal Standard on Hen Cages.” New York Times 7 July 2011. New York Times. 7 July 2011. Web. 11 July 2011.

About the author

Becky Villaneda

Becky is a Los Angeles-born writer educated in southern and northern California. She became a writer to raise awareness of social and environmental issues and because her mother’s passion for the written word was contagious. In early 2011, Becky and three other journalists teamed to write their first book “Stories4Women,” which is a collection of true short stories. This project has given her the courage to explore other book ideas … stay tuned. She recently moved to Santa Barbara and works at Hispanic Business Magazine and is happily exploring the city’s sights and sounds.

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  • Quote Two groups that are squawking at each other egg farmers and animal welfare advocates announced an unusual agreement on Thursday to work together to seek a federal law that would require larger cages and other improved conditions for the…