While most of the United States experiences the onset of scorching summer heat, it's a great day for snowballs in Hell. For 25 years, Farm Sanctuary's Mephistopheles has been the egg industry, which is the most abusive of all the farmed animal industries. And yet today, the egg industry's trade group, the United Egg Producers, has agreed to support federal legislation that will, upon enactment, improve the welfare of all laying hens in the nation.
Until now, the UEP supported abuses of farmed animals in the United States that turned their lives into a blazing inferno of pain and despair -- battery cages, which cram between 5 and 10 hens into cages so small that their lives are void of any natural activities beyond breathing and defecating. In these torture chambers, hens are unable to spread even one wing.
Even worse, roughly 50 million hens are crammed into these cages with only 48 square inches per bird--they are literally living their lives on top of one another. And tens of millions are starved for two weeks to shock their bodies into another laying cycle. Their suffering is beyond our worst imaginings.
These are battery cages, from a Farm Sanctuary undercover investigation:
Practices previously supported by the UEP are so loathsome and cruel that a state ballot initiative to ban them passed in California with the most "yes" votes in California ballot initiative history. Similar initiatives were poised for passage in Washington State and Oregon over the next couple years, until the UEP relented.
Extraordinary work by Farm Sanctuary and Humane Society of the United States activists in California, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon has brought the UEP to the table: Even the egg producers can see the writing on the wall, which foretells the end of battery cages, so that now, they have agreed to aggressively support legislation that will lessen suffering for hundreds of millions of animals every single year.
The legislation supported by the UEP will: 1) require the eventual nationwide elimination of battery cages; 2) require environmental enrichment for all birds so that they can engage in important natural behaviors currently denied to them in barren cages; 3) mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs; 4) prohibit forced molting through starvation -- an inhumane practice which is inflicted on tens of millions of hens each year and which involves withholding all food from birds for up to two weeks in order to shock their bodies into another laying cycle; 5) prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses -- a common problem in the industry that is harmful to both hens and egg industry workers; 6) require standards for euthanasia practices; and 7) prohibit the sale of all eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these requirements.
This bill, if enacted, will be the first federal law relating to the treatment of chickens used for food, the first federal law relating to the treatment of animals while on farms, and the first federal law improving the treatment of farmed animals in more than thirty years. You can rest assured that Farm Sanctuary will vigorously push for the passage of this legislation.
Some of the requirements -- including the total phase out of battery cages, will take years. But some of the provisions will be implemented nearly immediately after enactment, such as those relating to molting, ammonia, and euthanasia, and others after just a few years, including labeling and the requirement that all birds will have to have at least 67 square inches of space each. These requirements, even absent the longer phase out of cages and phase in of environmental enrichment requirements, will result in a significant reduction in suffering for hens. And while our efforts so far have helped tens of millions of birds annually, this legislation will help 250 million every year within a few years, and will eventually remove all 250 million birds per year from battery cages -- forever.
At Farm Sanctuary, we share our lives with hens, and we know them as individuals. We will continue in our mission of rescuing farmed animals from abuse, advocating for legislative change to improve farmed animal welfare, litigating on behalf of farmed animals, and educating consumers about the fact that all egg consumption supports cruelty. The idea of confining hens in any cages, including the enriched colony cages (12 feet by 4 feet cages with perches, dust bathing areas, and other forms of enrichment) that will replace tiny battery cages, is unacceptable to us.
But this deal represents a victory for farmed animals, we are proud of our significant part in making it happen, and we salute the hard work of animal protection advocates nationwide who worked so hard on behalf of our nation's hens.
Follow Bruce Friedrich on Twitter: www.twitter.com/brucegfriedrich