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Egg Producers and Humane Society Agree: Chickens Need More Elbow Room

July 14, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Two national groups have formed an unlikely partnership to push Congress for new standards for egg producers. If they get their way, all hens will get bigger and better living quarters and consumers will have more information about how their eggs came to be.

The new standards would have a large impact in Texas, which ranks in the top 10 for egg production nationwide.

United Egg Producers and The Humane Society of the United States are backing proposed legislation which would require that conventional hen cages be phased out and replaced with cages that give each hen almost double the space. Most hens now are confined to a 67-square-inch area - less space than a letter-sized piece of paper - for their entire lives, according to Humane Society spokesman Paul Shapiro.

"An increasing number of people are really starting to think about where our food comes from. When it comes to eggs, unfortunately, the situation is just not that pretty. It's not 'Old MacDonald's Farm' out there. It's, in fact, hundreds of millions of birds who are confined in very cramped cages where they're unable even to spread their wings."

The proposal by the two groups would prohibit egg producers from withholding feed or water to extend the laying cycle, and prohibit excessive ammonia levels in hen houses. It would also mandate labeling on all egg cartons to inform consumers; for example: "cage free," "free range" or "eggs from caged hens."

United Egg Producers, a national cooperative of farmers, represents about 80 percent of the nation's egg producers. Its spokesman, Mitch Head, says a vast majority of those producers are supportive of a national standard.

"I think that they are as concerned about animal welfare and providing eggs and doing it in a reasonable way."

Many farmers, Head says, have made improvements in the past ten years, such as doubling the amount of space for egg-laying hens. He says the proposal advanced by his group and the Humane Society would improve upon that, and also give hens perches and scratching areas.

"I think consumers will have greater confidence that the eggs that they'll be buying are produced in a proper and humane way, and that they'll be able to continue to have a choice in the marketplace of the types of eggs that they like to buy, and have a supply of eggs at a reasonable price."

Egg-production statistics are online at poultryegg.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX