A new version of the proposed legislation known as the Egg Bill, which encompasses the language of the laying hen welfare agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States, was introduced into the 113th Congress as H.R. 1731 and S. 820 on April 25, 2013. The new Egg Bill has revisions that clarify some of the requirements and also adds a transition period for California egg producers to ease the switch to Proposition 2 requirements.
Changes for California
California Proposition 2 requires that hens be able to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully spread their wings without touching the side of an enclosure or another hen. But, Proposition 2 does not specify a type of enclosure nor the space required per bird. The revised Egg Bill states that hens in California must be given at least 116 square inches per bird starting on January 1, 2015. It also says that all cages installed after enactment of the Egg Bill must be fully enriched.
For existing cages in California, the 2013 Egg Bill now provides a 10 year transition period during which time these cages will need to have enrichments installed. Mileposts for adding enrichments would be set at 2.5, 5, 7.5 and 10 years after enactment, at which time it is expected that 25, 50, 75 and 100 percent of these enclosures, respectively, would have enrichments. On January 1, 2024, California egg producers will be required to provide at least 124 square inches per hen in these enriched enclosures.
Eggs shipped into California
The California legislature has enacted A.B. 1437, which, after January 1, 2015, prohibits the sale of shell eggs for human consumption in California if it is the product of an egg-laying hen that was confined on a farm or place that is not in compliance with Proposition 2 animal care standards and would make violations of these provisions a crime. An attempt has been made in the U.S. Congress to override this statue with the so-called King amendment. If the King amendment doesn't pass and A.B. 1437 survives potential legal challenges, then egg producers outside of California wishing to sell shell eggs in California would only be able to ship eggs into the state that came from hens housed in enriched enclosures that provide at least 116 square inches per hen or from cage-free flocks.
The provisions of the new Egg Bill covering California are still not perfect, but they are an improvement over the original version of the bill, according to at least one major California egg producer. Gary West, president, JS West and Affiliates, said, "This is the best agreement we could get after months of negotiation, but our wish was always to try and mirror the national standards." Commenting on the significance of the new Egg Bill for producers around the country, he said, "This legislation is important for the country because it levels the playing field for everyone with the exception of California, but with the California law A.B. 1437, we [California egg producers] would still be protected. The cost will increase for everyone, but with the extended time period, producers have time to make changes. It will be acceptable."
Other changes and clarifications
The requirement that ammonia levels in the layer house be kept at 25 parts per million or less was retained in the new Egg Bill, but the overall language was changed to clarify temporary excesses of ammonia will not constitute a violation of the act. The language regarding ammonia is modeled on the UEP Certified program.
In the original version of the Egg Bill, the only exemption included was for farms with fewer than 3,000 layers. Researchers and primary breeders, who frequently need to house birds in individual cages, are exempted in the new Egg Bill.
New versus existing cages
The new Egg Bill specifies that for all states, except California, an existing cage is any that was in continuous use up to December 31, 2011. Beginning 15 years after the date of enactment of the new Egg Bill, all existing caging devices will be required to be enriched. Four years after enactment of the new Egg Bill, existing cages are required to provide hens a minimum of 67 square inches per white hen. The space allotted per bird can be maintained at 67 square inches until 15 years after enactment, at which time the requirement changes to 124 square inches per bird and enrichments are required.
Cages that came into use between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2011, are considered to be existing cages but are established as a special group of existing cages. These cages can be operated without enrichments at 67 square inches per white hen until January 1, 2030.
Cages put into use after December 31, 2011, are designated as new in the new Egg Bill for all states, except California. The legislation requires a gradual reduction in cage density over the first 15 years after enactment. Space required per bird increases at 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 years after enactment to 78, 90, 101, 113 and 124 square inches per white hen, respectively. Nine years after enactment of the bill, new cages are required to have enrichments.
All flocks that are housed prior to any of the compliance dates specified by the agreement are exempted from the new requirements as long as the flock is housed. The exemption expires when the flock is removed from the cages, and all subsequent flocks must meet the new requirements.