On July 27 a U.S. Senate committee discussed legislation to set national standards for the treatment of egg-laying hens, debating particularly how much space each hen should have in their coops, according to reports.

The proposed legislation, promoted by Senator Dianne Feinstein, would increase the size of henhouses and require egg labeling so consumers know how hens were raised. "This is a practical, fair-minded deal that solves a real problem for the egg industry," said Feinstein. Her effort to create national standards is partly the result of an initiative passed by Californians in 2008 that require that hens be able to stretch their wings and turn around in their housing. At least five other states have enacted similar rules. The legislation also takes into account a compromise reached in 2011 between the Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers.

Advertisement

The bill gives farmers 18 years to increase the size of hen cages. The measure would also outlaw the practice of depriving hens of food and water to increase egg production, set minimum air quality standards for henhouses and require that egg cartons stipulate whether eggs come from hens that are caged, cage-free, free-range or housed in enriched cages. Currently, the majority of caged hens are provided with 67 square inches of space. If the legislation passes, the hens would be given 124 to 144 square inches of space.

Groups representing beef and pork industries have come out against Feinstein's bill, and a companion bill in the House sponsored by Representative Kurt Schrader, saying that they might be the next target of federal legislation. An industry group called Egg Farmers of America is also opposed to the legislation, saying that it could drive small farmers out of business, increase consumer prices, affect other industries and lacks scientific justification.