The United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States have not agreed on much over the years, but the two organizations were able to find common ground recently and have come to an agreement on a plan that would change the way that most hens in the U.S. are housed. In July, representatives from the two groups signed a memorandum of understanding, which outlines standards for housing and care of hens in the U.S., and commits both groups to petition Congress to pass legislation establishing these as national standards.

Both UEP and HSUS intend to work with Congress with the goal of having the law in place by June 30, 2012, and the transition being fully implemented by December 31, 2029.

National legislation  

If passed by Congress, the legislation would supersede state laws including those that have been passed in Arizona, California, Michigan and Ohio. In recognition of ballot Proposition 2 passed by voters in California in 2008, UEP and HSUS will ask Congress to require California egg producers to eliminate conventional cages by 2015, the date Proposition 2 is scheduled to go into effect, and provide all hens with the space and environmental enrichments that the rest of the egg industry will be phasing in over the next 15 to 18 years. These requirements will also apply to the sale of all eggs and egg products in California under the proposed federal legislation.

Gene Gregory, president and CEO of UEP, said that the legislation is necessary in order to protect UEP’s customers and the marketplace from any disruption that could occur if a patchwork series of state laws and regulations regarding hen housing were implemented. “With 24 states having the ballot initiative process, we could continue to see numerous efforts by HSUS to use voter referendums to legislate a transition to cage-free production, which we believe would not be a sustainable egg industry. A few months ago UEP became aware that HSUS was recognizing the benefits of the enriched colony cage housing systems and would be receptive to discussions about national legislation,” Gregory said.

“We believe it is far better to have one single, national standard in federal legislation for the production of shell egg and egg product markets without state trade barriers for our customers, and one that is phased in over several years to minimize any marketplace disruption. This is especially important for our retail customers that have stores in multiple states,” Gregory continued.

No more ballot initiatives  

HSUS has agreed to not file the signatures for qualification for Washington state’s ballot initiative in 2011, and to not further pursue ballot legislation in Oregon in 2012. UEP and HSUS have agreed not to initiate, fund or support any state legislation or ballot initiative measures concerning space requirements for housing of laying hens. HSUS and UEP have also agreed that they will not initiate, fund or support litigation against, or investigation of, either party or UEP members while this agreement is in force. Neither HSUS nor UEP will fund or support any other organization for the specific purpose of achieving a result contrary to the provisions of this agreement.