At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on the Egg Products Inspection Act, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today said he was concerned the act would cause a dramatic increase in the price of eggs for consumers already struggling in this economy.
"At a time when stalled economic growth continues to force many families to count every penny in their food budget, why would the federal government want to drive up costs on one of staples of their diet," Roberts said. "I have very straight-forward concerns about this policy: is it based on science? What will be the cost to producers and consumers, and what impact will this have on our nutrition programs? Can USDA implement it?"
The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, S. 3239, is legislation introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) that regulates the production of table eggs.
Senator Roberts is the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The following text is his opening statement as prepared for delivery:
"Madam Chairwoman, thank you for calling this hearing this morning giving us an opportunity to hear directly from egg producers regarding a bill that would--for the first time ever--put the federal government in charge of the standards under which eggs are produced in this country.
"I also appreciate the chance to hear from my friend and colleague Senator Feinstein.
"First, let me say that I firmly believe farmers and ranchers are good stewards of the animals under their care. One of the fundamental principles of the animal husbandry profession is that your animals get fed, watered and taken care of for the night before you head to the house.
"There is absolutely no excuse for animal cruelty, particularly given the multitude of training programs and educational efforts about animal care and handling for those who work with and around animals. Producers understand that the better they take care of their animals, the more productive those animals will be.
"Second, let me say that Senator Feinstein and the egg producers of California have a real challenge. There is no doubt that California's Proposition 2 has created uncertainty in the industry.
"But I'm not sure this "agreement' between the United Egg Producers marketing cooperative and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a solution that addresses the unintended consequences that we as policy makers need to consider.
"When this committee considers any change in policy that will impact animal agriculture, there are a wide range of factors that should be taken into account--considerations like food safety, animal health and welfare, the economics of food production, environmental issues, our international trade obligations and most importantly--science.
"What is the best possible science available to govern the manner in which our food supply is produced in this country is this legislation based on science?
"Put simply, when we deviate from science-based decisions, we end up making the very problems we're trying to resolve worse.
"If the science eventually says that a smaller cage is better, will this alliance of producers and HSUS be back before this committee in a year or two petitioning for a change in the law when the science changes?
"I also hope to learn why egg producers were solidly against any agreement with HSUS before they were for it. What changed in the issue to bring about such a reversal in their position?
"I understand that there are also class action lawsuits involving anti-trust issues that are at the forefront of the many challenges egg producers are dealing with right now. Is this agreement somehow viewed as an escape hatch from those discussions?
"I wish we had USDA with us here this morning to explain how they would actually enforce this agreement were it to ever become law.
"In addition to questions regarding the implications of this agreement on interstate commerce and our international trade obligations, I'm very concerned about how this agreement affects the price that consumers will pay for eggs.
"European consumers are dealing with these challenges now. European consumers saw their supply of eggs drop 10-15 percent soon after their government implemented its version of this law--a decrease which lead to a 55 percent increase in the price of eggs.
"At the Federal level, this committee must examine what affects a dramatic price increase like this would cause to our programs like WIC and SNAP. A 55 percent increase in egg prices would significantly reduce the purchasing power of the recipients of these programs. Is this really what we want?
"Madam Chairwoman, I have letters in opposition to this legislation from the American Farm Bureau Federation, a group of four national veterinary organizations, and a letter signed by 94 state and national organizations representing egg, milk, sheep, wool, turkey, pork and beef producers that I would like entered into the record.
"Madam Chairwoman, thank you and I look forward to this morning's discussion."