Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for me at the United Egg Producers' (UEP) annual meeting in Asheville, N.C., was that the association hadn't given up on passage of the Egg Bill. Chad Gregory, president and CEO, UEP, said, "We haven't thrown in the towel yet on the Egg Bill. If our lead sponsors haven't thrown in the towel yet, then I don't think that we should. They [the congressional sponsors] will continue to try and find a piece of legislation to attach this Egg Bill to from now until the end of the 113th Congress."
UEP's agreement with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to work together to secure passage of the Egg Bill dates back to July of 2011, and it has been extended several times. The most recent extension, prior to the UEP annual meeting, expired at the end of October 2013. Gregory said that UEP needed to decide how to proceed going forward.
"We need to resolve our relationship with HSUS, one way or the other," he said. "Going forward will we continue to work together or going forward will we go our separate ways. We can't answer that yet."
Looking to the future, the one certainty for egg producers will be change. With or without the Egg Bill, changes being made by egg producers in California and other states to prepare for Proposition 2's impact on the California egg market will be felt throughout 2014.
Will the egg market in California, Washington and Oregon embrace enriched cages, or will cage-free egg production grow to replace conventional cage eggs as the market leader? California will provide a litmus test for what the future of the egg industry might be in other states. A quick look at how the shift from conventional cages to enriched cages has gone in Europe should be enough to convince U.S. egg producers that change isn't just coming, it can be unpredictable. How many European egg producers thought that the path out of conventional cages was going to lead to majority cage-free or free-range production in some countries?