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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 with Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Senator Collins as original cosponsors.

This legislation establishes a single, national standard for the humane treatment of egg-laying hens.

The bill text represents a historic compromise between the United Egg Producers, who represent about 90 percent of the eggs produced in the United States, and the Humane Society, the Nation's largest animal-welfare organization.

The bill is supported by 14 agriculture and egg producer groups, the four major veterinary groups involved in avian medicine, five consumer organizations, and hundreds more groups nationwide.

Nearly 10 years ago, voters started taking an interest in insuring that their eggs were being produced humanely. This resulted in State level legislation and a number of initiatives, including Proposition 2 in California, to reform the agriculture industry.

Many of these efforts were successful. State laws governing egg production were enacted in 6 states, and a patchwork of differing state-based regulation has emerged.

Compounding the problem is the lack of a standard for egg labeling. This makes it difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are purchasing and understand what the labels mean.

This situation has two principal effects.

First, the uncertainty stifles economic growth in this important industry. Egg producers now face difficult choices when it comes to investing in their businesses. Why expand facilities and invest in new technologies when rules may change and invalidate your investment? Why expand into new markets when those new markets may be closed to you in just a few short years?

Second, consumers are limited in their ability to make choices. At the supermarket, consumers are bombarded with different labels, ``humanely-raised,'' ``cage-free,'' and ``all-natural.'' But the definitions of these labels vary, and even when they are consistent the terms are vague. One person's ``all-natural'' may not be another person's ``all-natural.'' One company's ``cage-free'' may not be another company's ``cage-free.''

This legislation addresses both problems.

It increases the size of hen cages over the next 18 years and adds enrichments like perches and nests so chickens can engage in natural ``chicken'' behaviors, like scratching and nesting.

It outlaws the practice of depriving hens of food and water, a once-common practice to increase egg production.

It sets minimum air quality standards for hen houses, protecting workers and birds.

It establishes clear requirements for egg labeling so consumers know whether the eggs they buy come from hens that are caged, cage-free, free-range, or housed in enriched cages.

Farmers with 3,000 birds or fewer are exempted from the provisions of this legislation.

Also, organic, cage-free and free-range egg producers will be unaffected by the housing provisions of the bill. However, they may see increased sales, as consumers are able to more clearly tell what is available on store shelves as a result of the labeling provisions.

The legislation offers significant phase-in time to allow producers to make the necessary changes in the regular course of replacing their equipment. It is my understanding that hen cages generally last 10 to 15 years. So the 18-year phase-in included in the bill should offer sufficient time to implement changes to enriched cages.

This legislation is important in part because it represents a compromise between old adversaries.

In this agreement, egg producers and the Humane Society have joined forces to meet consumer demand, address concerns of the animal welfare community and resolve a decade-old struggle. The result is a bill widely supported by the industry, animal welfare advocates and consumers.

It is an example of commonsense cooperation in what has historically been a contentious space.

This bill also reflects changes already being made because of consumer demand. McDonalds, Burger King, Costco, Safeway and other companies are already phasing in new humane handling requirements for the production of the food that they sell.

Further, a survey by an independent research company, the Bantam Group, found that consumers support the industry transitioning to larger cages with enrichments by a ratio of 12 to 1.

Importantly, the Congressional Budget Office scores this legislation as having no cost, and a study by Agralytica, a consulting firm, found that this legislation would not have a substantial price effect on consumers. That means we can achieve these goals at little to no cost to taxpayers and consumers.

This legislation has been endorsed by leading scientists in the egg industry, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the two leading avian veterinary groups. Studies show these new cages can result in lower mortality and higher productivity for hens, making them more efficient for egg producers.

As many of my colleagues know, the legislation was the subject of a June 2012 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. The hearing was attended by egg farmers from around the country--Georgia, Michigan, California, Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio--all united in their support for uniform regulations.

The Secretary of Agriculture himself suggested that the legislation is a good example of ``thinking differently,'' and possibly even a way to get more Americans to support the farm bill and other rural issues. As he pointed out, egg producers deserve to know the rules of the road

The agreement in this bill is just the sort of reasonable thinking and compromise that we need more of in Washington.

I urge you to join me in supporting this legislation.


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