Senate scrambles plan to protect egg-laying hens
The Kansas City Star
Leaders of the U.S. Senate chickened out this week. Yielding to paranoia from beef and pork producers, they nixed a bipartisan amendment that would lead to more humane treatment for the hens that produce most of the eggs consumed by Americans.
Hopes for the measure now reside with the House, which is considering a similar amendment to the new farm bill. Passage there could encourage the Senate to reassess an opportunity to improve the nation’s food supply.
In a welcome show of detente after years of conflict, the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the U.S. forged an agreement that would phase in larger cages and better treatment for egg-laying hens, as well as require labeling to inform consumers about the conditions in which a hen was raised. The changes would be expected to add 10 cents to the price of a carton of eggs by 2025.
That’s a small price to pay for more ethical food production. About 250 million hens currently exist miserably in cages too small to extend a wing or turn around. Some states have laws requiring more humane conditions. But the reforms are unpopular with lawmakers in agricultural states, and a patchwork of regulations has hampered interstate marketing and distribution.
Lawmakers from both parties in the U.S. Senate and House had agreed to co-sponsor amendments that would enshrine the provisions of the agreement into law.
But the groundbreaking and sensible measure failed to make the cut when sponsors of a new farm bill, including Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, whittled the number of amendments down to 73.
Senators were unwilling to do the right thing in the face of opposition from other livestock groups, which irrationally contend that humane conditions for one species might force reform on their industries. That would be a great development, actually. But if lawmakers are too cowed to pass an amendment that the egg industry has signed off on, it’s implausible to think they would require reform of industries that don’t want to change.
The House should do the right thing and keep the amendment alive. This opportunity for positive change may not come up again any time soon.