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Miller: A Cage Is a Cage — Stop the Rotten Egg Bill

The egg industry is scrambling to subvert the will of the people. Faced with new laws in California and several other states that either outlaw or restrict battery cages, the industry is desperately seeking ways to create the illusion of progress while, in fact, keeping hens locked in appalling conditions.

Its latest scheme: “The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012” (H.R. 3798 and S. 3239), which would simply trade one cruel metal cage for another.

This rotten egg bill not only perpetuates animal suffering, it is also an unprecedented assault on voters and states’ rights. To understand why, one needs to look beyond the rhetoric of the bill’s proponents, the United Egg Producers and the co-opted Humane Society of the United States — which has recently undergone an outrageous Orwellian transformation and is now endorsing the inhumane egg factory cages it long opposed.

Together, this odd couple wants people to believe that H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 will, over the course of 18 years, “ban battery cages.” But just the opposite is true. Rather than outlawing cages, this insidious bill would outlaw the banning of cages.

Under the guise of “enriching” battery cages, the egg industry is seeking to establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote. In one fell swoop, this rotten egg bill would:

• Deprive states of their right to enforce existing state laws that ban or restrict battery cages (chief among them, California’s Proposition 2).

• Deny state legislatures and voters their right to enact laws that ban cages or otherwise regulate egg factory conditions.

• Deceive the public with misleading claims regarding animal welfare.

Another cynical aspect of the bill pertains to pending lawsuits. The United Egg Producers and several of the egg companies it represents have been sued repeatedly for alleged illegal price fixing. The group’s members have already agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that they illegally manipulated the price and supply of eggs under the guise of instituting standards for animal welfare.

Now — with litigation pending against it from companies such as General Mills, Kraft Foods and others — United Egg Producers and its co-defendants are asking Congress to codify standards that would, in effect, provide legal cover for the very activities of which they stand accused.

To make it appear as if laying hens would somehow benefit, the legislation contains several diversionary provisions. None of them holds up to scrutiny.

Proponents claim that the bill would stop the supposed forced-molting of “tens of millions” of hens by “starvation and water deprivation.” Remarkably, they fail to provide any evidence that this is presently occurring. Far from changing any currently accepted molting practice, the bill merely adopts the producers’ existing standards. The same goes for “euthanasia” and other provisions to distract from the central issue: keeping hens in cages and pre-empting state laws.

And while proponents give lip service to improving air quality, the bill contains nothing that alters current ammonia levels in egg factory farms. Rather, it merely duplicates existing standards that allow unhealthful conditions.

As far as labeling egg cartons, the bill certainly would do that. For the very first time, the euphemistic and grossly misleading term “enriched cages” would begin appearing on egg cartons nationwide in order to deflect public concern and to increase egg sales from caged hens.

In stark contrast to every legitimate anti-cruelty law in the nation, H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 contain no criminal penalties. While nullifying state laws that contain appropriate penalties and enforcement, this egg industry power grab would shift all authority to the industry-dominated Agriculture Department. This would be a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house.

Americans overwhelmingly support laws banning egg factory cages. The Humane Society of the United States can change its own position from one moment to the next. But our state laws and voting rights do not belong to them and are not theirs to trade away.

We urge everyone concerned about animal cruelty and food safety to contact their Senators and Representatives and ask their no vote on H.R. 3798 and S. 3239. Please help stop this outrageous bill that would forever keep hens in cages — while taking away our voting rights.

Bradley Miller is national director of the Humane Farming Association.

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