The United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States have partnered to work toward the enactment of federal legislation that would set national standards for hens involved in U.S. egg production. The proposed standards, if enacted, would be the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms.

The proposed legislation would:

  • require conventional cages (currently used by more than 90% of the egg industry) to be replaced, through an ample phase-in period, with new, enriched housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they're currently allotted. Egg producers will invest an additional $4 billion over the next decade and a half to effect this industry-wide make-over;
  • require that all egg-laying hens be provided, through the new enriched housing system, with environments that will allow hens to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas;
  • mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as "eggs from caged hens," "eggs from hens in enriched cages," "eggs from cage-free hens" and "eggs from free-range hens;"
  • prohibit feed- or water-withholding molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program adhered to by a majority of egg farmers;
  • require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia for egg laying hens;
  • prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses;
  • prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet these requirements.

The two groups will jointly ask Congress for federal legislation which would require egg producers to increase space per bird in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space birds are given increasing, in intervals, over the next 15 to 18 years. Currently, the majority of birds are each provided 67 square inches of space, with roughly 50 million receiving 48 square inches. The proposed phase-in would culminate with hens nationwide being provided a minimum of 124–144 square inches of space, along with the other improvements noted.

If passed by Congress, the legislation would supersede state laws including those that have already been passed in Arizona, California (Proposition 2), Michigan and Ohio. The agreement to pass comprehensive federal legislation for standards of egg production puts a hold on planned ballot measures related to egg-laying hens in both Washington and Oregon.