Why Does the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocation Care About the Humane Society-United Egg Producers Agreement?

Just finished reading a post over at Beltway Beef about how NCBA thinks the agreement reached by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) is a “dangerous precedent”.  Here’s a pdf fact sheet about the agreement from HSUS. In short, the two organizations have agreed to mutually pursue legislation that will mandate enriched cages instead of barren battery cages phased in over 15-18 years. It would also mandate labeling on egg cartons such as “eggs from caged hens”. Forced molting through starvation would be banned as well as some other issues that are addressed in the fact sheet. To be clear, there is no legislation currently on the table. The agreement only specifies that the two groups will work together to get legislation passed. And we’re talking federal law too which would trump any existing state laws.

So two groups who are generally in disagreement get along and agree on some legislation that improves the lives of laying hens – and this is a bad thing?

I think enriched cages are certainly an improvement for laying hens, so I support this legislation. But, I don’t think it’s the best solution. I’ll continue to buy my eggs from local farmers or raise backyard chickens before I’ll buy eggs at the grocery store from battery caged hens or even enriched caged hens.

But why is NCBA up in arms about this?

From the Beltway Beef post: “If the legislation were to become law, Butts said for the first time ever, the federal government would be in charge of mandating how farmers and ranchers raise and care for their animals.

Ah, the ol’ slippery slope argument! Here’s why I believe this alarmist position is not justified. They say that if the legislation would pass, then the government would, for the first time ever, be in charge of mandating how farmers and ranchers raise and care for their animals. For starters, ranchers raise cattle…not chickens. So this legislation will not be a precedent for any mandates for ranchers. Second, the legislation would only mandate one specific aspect of the egg industry — and for the better! It would not give the government any more power than the legislation addresses — which is a 15-18 year phase-in of enriched cages and some labeling standards.

NCBA wants to pretend that the government has no business meddling in the affairs of farmers and ranchers. But the NCBA certainly wants to have their say in politics: Influence Explorer. The government has the right to enact legislation regarding the livestock/agriculture industry and this is not some Draconian legislation — it’s just about improving the welfare of laying hens!


2 Comments on “Why Does the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocation Care About the Humane Society-United Egg Producers Agreement?”

  1. F.Ben38 says:

    Those concerned about the treatment of laying hens should oppose this legislation. The outrageous bill (which is actually on the table–it’s called HR 3798, introduced in January) would establish egg factory CAGES as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote–essentially stopping cage-free laws dead in their tracks. Instead of outlawing cages–this crazy measure would outlaw the banning of cages. That is why it is being pushed by the egg industry itself! Check out the Stop the Rotten Egg Bill campaign (http://www.StopTheRottenEggBill.org) to learn more.

    • ethicalplate says:

      Hi, thanks for visiting and commenting F.Ben38,

      I understand your point of view. I don’t think hens should be kept in cages either. That’s why I buy eggs from a local pasture-based farmer and I think that represents part of the ideal. The other part would be backyard chickens.

      The trap you’re falling in to here, in my opinion, is that you’re letting perfect be the enemy of good. The reason I say that is because I do not believe you will ever see a law passed that bans the use of cages outright. Certainly not in the next 25 years. Currently, 96% of the egg industry uses the barren battery cage system. If the legislation passes, enriched cages would be phased in over the next 15-18 years. That’s at least an improvement. Improvements are good. If you abandon this legislation, I think you’ll see another 10-25 years go by without any improvements. And that can’t be good for hen welfare. The egg industry will never voluntarily go along with a cage-free legislative mandate.

      Like I was saying, I believe in alternatives to caged production. I also believe in alternatives to cage-free production which is just essentially a broiler barn that has hens in it. I think the ideal is local pasture-based eggs and backyard chickens. This type of grassroots movement could easily supplant the current version of the caged egg industry. I think that would work faster and be far more effective than pursuing legislation that the egg industry will fight tooth and nail. They want the ability to scale vertically within the hen houses. You can’t do that with cage-free. They would throw millions and millions against legislation banning cages outright and my guess is they would be successful in defeating the cage-free legislation. I’m trying not to be negative here, but that’s the reality.

      I think the statement about “never being challenged or changed by state law or public vote”, while containing elements of truth, is not something that needs to be worried about. Grassroots movements that start with the people (consumers) will always be able to out-compete the government’s legislation.

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