Federal Issue Brief

 H.R. 3798/ S. 3239, Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012

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AVMA Position:

Support

Summary:

H.R. 3798 was introduced by Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-5th/OR) on January 23, 2012. S. 3239 was introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) on May 24, 2012. This legislation would amend the Egg Products Inspection Act to provide for a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens.

Background: 

  • H.R. 3798/S. 3239 codifies an agreement reached between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States to seek federal legislation that would establish a uniform national standard for
    the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens, included in the legislation are:
  • A phase-in of required floor space and adequate environmental enrichments (known as enriched colony housing)
  • Prohibition on feed- and water-withdrawal induced/forced molting
  • Sets the level of acceptable air quality as not more than 25ppm of ammonia
  • Requirement for the use of euthanasia methods deemed “acceptable” by the AVMA
  • Labeling definitions that indicates the type of housing that the egg-laying hens were provided during egg production
  • A phase-in for conversion of production percentage of hens [industry-wide] that must be housed according to new standards

  •  H.R. 3798/S. 3239 are consistent with AVMA Policy:
 AVMA has historically been supportive of federal standards for animal care that have the goal of improving animal welfare (examples include the Animal Welfare Act, the PUPS Act, and the Humane Methods ofSlaughter Act).

Justification:

Improved Layer Hen Health and Welfare


Health 

  • Enriched colony housing (or furnished housing) appears to combine benefits of both conventional cages and non-cage housing. It often includes features, such as perches, a nest box/area, litter or scratch area, and increased space per hen. The proposed legislation would phase-in housing requiring 124 in2/ white hen and 144 in2/brown hen of floor space.

  • A review of the existing science and recently-obtained production-scale data indicate that the proposed housing scheme outlined in the legislation (i.e., enriched colony housing) will result in improvements in overall laying hen welfare, while retaining efficacious production.
  •  Field data indicates low mortality for hens in enriched colony housing compared with conventional cages.

  •  The presence of perches in enriched colony housing increases hen activity. This contributes to improved bone health and less bone breakage both during egg laying and depopulation as compared to conventional cages, where there is little opportunity for exercise.
  •  Advantages over non-cage systems include freedom from disease, protection from temperature extremes, less social pressure, and reduced exposure to parasites.
  •  Biosecurity is improved as the hens are housed in a controlled environment.
  • Controlled environments, such as enriched colony housing, allow for more balanced intake of nutrients needed for body maintenance and egg production.

  • The legislation is consistent with AVMA policy, which opposes withdrawal of water and/or food to induce molting. Food-withdrawal molting has shown to increase stress, impair immune response, and decrease bone strength. Water deprivation results in a higher  incidence of illness and death during the early stages of the molt cycle and is not necessary to achieve a molt in poultry.

Behavior

  • Enriched colony housing for laying hens provides greater opportunities for hens to express natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, foraging, and dust bathing.
  • Hens in enriched colony housing have greater freedom of movement than hens in convention cages, allowing them greater opportunities to stretch, flap their wings, and walk.
  • Because hens in enriched colony housing are kept in smaller groups then in non-cage systems, harmful behaviors such as cannibalism and piling up tend to be less frequent.
Comments:
  • The AVMA has always supported voluntary efforts to assure animal welfare. While a voluntary move to enriched housing would be ideal, the egg industry in the United States is currently facing a patchwork of conflicting state laws and domestic trade barriers that impact its ability to conduct its business. Producers in California face uncertainty (and potentially a much higher cost structure) as to what systems will beacceptable under 2008’s Proposition 2; Oregon, Ohio and Michigan have passed state-level production standards with some inconsistencies; and multiple ballot initiatives known to be pending would compel cage-free production (24 states currently allow ballot initiatives). In addition to restrictions in-state, affected states have moved, and may continue to move, to prevent the import of eggs from other states—the likely result will be severe limits on interstate commerce in eggs.
  • The AVMA will work with legislators and other stakeholders to ensure, as best as possible, that implementation of the legislation results in the expected animal welfare improvements is reasonable and minimizes any adverse impacts on producers, associated industries and consumers.
  • The legislation is consistent with where the industry anticipates it is going, but allows producers ample time to make capital improvements that might not be possible under other scenarios.

AVMA Contact:

Dr. Whitney L. Miller, Assistant Director, AVMA Governmental Relations at 202-289-3211.