Consumers may not like the idea of spending more for healthy menu items, but studies have found they are willing to pay a bit more for eggs that come from chickens living in humane conditions. And that’s a good thing, because thanks to a new agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers, pricier eggs and happier chickens may soon be a reality.
As Nation’s Restaurant News reports, the unlikely agreement was signed yesterday after years of conflict between the two groups, who are now proposing legislation that would have a major effect on the welfare of egg-laying hens. If it passes, the law — which would be the first federal law to deal with the way animals are treated on farms — would require farmers to house their hens in more spacious “enriched housing facilities” equipped with nesting boxes, perches, and areas for dust-bathing and scratching. Each hen would get 124 to 144 square inches of cage space, as opposed to the 67 currently mandated by the UEP.
The legislation would also require the labeling on egg cartons to disclose whether their contents come from free-range hens, cage-free hens, hens in enriched cages, or caged hens. Sales of eggs or egg products from farmers who fail to comply with the regulations would be banned.
Should the law pass, farmers will have 15 to 18 years to update their facilities, at their own cost. It’s estimated that the transition will cost $4 billion, which works out to roughly $14 per hen.
Given the horrors recently documented in a video made at an industrial pig farm, the HSUS/UEP agreement sets an important precedent for the welfare of farm animals. Particularly since the factory-farm industry wants to make it illegal for undercover videographers to in any way record instances of animal cruelty in their facilities. Such legislation would in effect keep the public blissfully ignorant of the abuses perpetrated every day on farms across the country — and thus of the true cost attached to the food on our tables.