Stop the Devil’s Egg Bill aka the Rotten Egg Bill

iStock_000012708963XSmallUnmoved by critics who condemned what was called the “rotten egg bill” in 2012 (US Senate Bill 3239), the same nonprofit animal welfare organizations have returned with their 2013 effort, The Devil’s Egg Bill. It is weaker and more harmful to egg-laying chickens than last year’s version. The 2013 Senate Bill 820 is a misguided return to an animal welfare mistake that locks you, me and every organization and state out of improving the lives of chickens forever entombed in animal agriculture. Go here to see a side-by-side comparison of the 2012 and 2013 bills. S.820 is fairly convoluted with special rules applicable to California only because of that state’s legislation, Proposition 2, that had set cage and confinement standards for chickens and individuals from other species.

The highlights of S. 820: Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013

AFTER reading this posting, immediately contact your congressional representatives. Tell them you oppose the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments in all bills. Use the information below and feel free to cut and paste it into your emails to them. Call the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or go to http://whoismyrepresentative.com/

As proposed and posted online 25 April 2013:

  • The 2012 version of the bill used the word “must” consistently as the implementing mandate, as in “must provide environmental enrichment”; the 2013 bill (the “Act”) replaces “must” with “shall” throughout. I’m not an attorney, but “must” and “shall” are implementing words that I fear were changed with intention to weaken the bill. Going to the U.S. Federal Register website, “Drafting Legal Documents / Principles of Clear Writing / Section 3” you will see they believe it correct to, “use ‘must’ instead of ‘shall’” because:

“shall imposes an obligation to act, but may be confused with prediction of future action”
“must imposes obligation, indicates a necessity to act”

The impacts that this (must/shall) language change will have on egg-laying hens is up to Senators and attorneys to debate, but the plain English use of “must” in the original bill appears far more robust than “shall” in the 2013 Act. That change should be opposed.

Environmental Enrichment

  • The 2013 Act: “(a) The term ‘adequate environmental enrichments’ means adequate perch space, dust bathing or scratching areas, and nest space, as defined by the Secretary of Agriculture, based on the best available science, including the most recent studies available at the time that the Secretary defines the term.” The deadline schedule for the Secretary of Agriculture to define “adequate environmental enrichments” has been deleted from the current Act. The deleted section from 2012 read, “The Secretary shall issue regulations defining this term not later than January 1, 2017, and the final regulations shall go into effect on December 31, 2018.”
  • New cages have 9 years to implement environmental enrichment; existing cages have 15 years.

Floor Space

  • Existing cages. At the end of four years and until 15 years post passage of the Act, the larger brown hens get 76 square inches to live within; white hens get 67. After 15 years, browns get 144 square inches; white hens 124.
  • New Cages. Beginning year three and until year six, browns get 90 square inches, whites get 78 square inches of floor space. Between years six and nine, the allotment is 102 for the browns, 90 for the white hens. Nine to twelve years, 116 browns, 101 whites. From year twelve to fifteen years out from passage of this Act, browns get 130, whites 113. After fifteen years, the grand prize is 144 square inches for brown hens, 124 for white hens.
  • Allotted floor space for chickens “shall” be increased incrementally over many years uses a few ways to measure progress. Remember that brown hens are larger than white hens and thus are allotted additional square inches.
  • The first measure is floor space divided by the number of birds still in a cage by certain deadlines as I described above.
  • A second measure was added. At years six and twelve, surveys are taken to see if 25% and 55% respectively of the hens are caged according to the Act. By 31 December 2029, all environmental enrichments, and the glory of 144 square inches for brown hens and 124 for white hens, is the end result of S. 802. A report is made at each of these incremental stages. HOWEVER…

 No person, organization, or state government may improve on any provision of this Act if it differs from the Act though betters the lives of hens. And, there is no sunset language in this bill that would allow individuals, organizations, or states to make improvements after 2029—in effect, forever—unless Congress passed a newer bill.

  • Box labels are defined loosely, but there appears to be no penalties (confiscations, fines, criminal charges) for mislabeling. There is only a vaguely worded prohibition in commerce.
  • Insanely cruel practices will continue under this bill: burning of the sensitive tips of beaks; the whole sale slaughter of male chicks at birth; and not a single hen will be spared from slaughter after living a life confined to at most, 144 square inches, a floor area square 12 inches to a side. Aggressive birds may get more, the cooperative, less.
  • There appears to be no companion appropriations bill to pay for overseeing compliance of S.802.
  • There appears to be no penalties for violating the provisions of this bill. If the Secretary of Agriculture in any of his reports finds noncompliance, he submits the reports to various committees, and perhaps declares that provisions are now in effect regardless of compliance (unclear to me if this moves up the timetable for reforms). Eggs without carton labels describing how the hens were raised “shall” not be part of commerce. Eggs coming from covered sources that do not provide the “enrichment” and tiny space allocations less than those as scheduled in the Act are prohibited from commerce. But, again, there are no provisions for confiscations, fines, or any other impediment that would stop that commerce even after a notice, if any, were given. I’m hoping I missed something on this point.
  • S.802 does not protect over 56 million commercial laying hens every month, and many more millions over the course of every year as the egg-laying hens are killed and replaced when productivity declines. Why? “All layers in the United States on April 1, 2013 totaled 348 million…. The 348 million layers consisted of 292 million layers producing table or market type eggs, 53.0 million layers producing broiler-type hatching eggs, and 3.11 million layers producing egg-type hatching eggs.” S.802 only covers table eggs. IN ADDITION, all flocks of less than 3,000 hens are excluded from this bill. According to the USDA, “Flocks with more than 30,000 layers account for over 80 percent of all layers.” So, the remaining, unknown number of flocks below 3,000 hens are part of this percentage, inferred somewhere below 20%, and not covered by this bill.
  • Forced molting (the deprivation of water, food, and light to increase egg production) is allowed to continue for two more years AFTER the act is passed.
  • The Act allows 25 ppm of ammonia in the air in egg-layer housing but the 2013 version allows temporary increases for unusual conditions. At 25 ppm, “Marked eye, skin, and respiratory irritation” occurs in humans. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) at here.
  • This bill is an ecological disaster. I will post a separate blog on that aspect in the coming weeks.

Specific to California

  • Environmental enrichment. For new cages installed after the Act is enacted, enrichment commences three months after passage of the bill, an item that I would expect to affect a fraction of total cages in California; existing cages have until 1 January 2024. Last year’s bill simply stated that “All caging devices in California must provide egg-laying hens housed therein, beginning December 31, 2018, adequate environmental enrichments.” For the vast majority of California hens, this adds five years before enriched cages are required.
  • Floor Space. There are similar benchmarks and phasing in of environmental enrichment and allocations of floor space in California over time, excepting they are structured differently. The California Department of Agriculture is eventually handed back authority over the provisions of this ACT—after 15 years. California Proposition 2, driven primarily by the Humane Society of the United States, the same organization behind S.802, was decisively passed by voters there in 2008. In part, it provided that, ““Fully extending his or her limbs” means fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure, including, in the case of egg-laying hens, fully spreading both wings without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens.” It is set to go into effect 1 January 2015. If this Act passes, all the work of volunteers and monies spent will be cast aside. Chickens will be denied Prop 2’s provisions for an additional nine years. A similar initiative was stopped mid-signture collection in Washington State as a sign of good will by HSUS to United Egg Producers, the entity they tried to negotiate a fair bill with, but failed in decency.

S. 802 is convoluted and complex in its proposed changes. I’ve not included all of them. Though there are deep disagreements about what strategies best serve laying hens, in this case the end result of this Act leaves intact an insanely cruel industry. For whatever relief supporters of this Act believe they are providing for these hens, most consumers will certainly think the issues about chickens in animal agriculture have been settled. For all the petition-gatherers, and the once believable reputations of mainstream “animal groups”, it is essential they take another look at this disaster of a bill. You tried to negotiate with the largest industry imaginable and lost. This bill must be defeated. Your alliances with industry, pig slaughter businesses, retail meat outlets, and celebrity chefs must stop. Their intent is to increase the slaughter and all the terrible consequences chickens and other species experience in animal agriculture in their awareness minute by minute.

We must review the vegan movement’s mission and the diversity of its messaging. Diversity can be a strength, and I believe it is still. But there are lines that have been crossed. One of them is the arrogant assumption any subset of organizations has a right to stop all future “improvements” and lessen the remaining cruelties, if not end them, by the rest of us, including state governments. We operate within a constantly changing environment that requires adaptive strategies. It’s time to refine those strategies, and stop legislating the institutionalization of the slaughter billions of chickens who need us to stop the industry, not enable its continued existence.

Do we believe consumers are too stupid, uncaring, overwhelmed, and incapable of personal change? Or do we follow the examples of other justice movements that succeeded when it seemed impossible? When we defeat this bill, we will have an enhanced responsibility to stop animal agriculture’s harm and death for all chickens and other species. What could we otherwise accomplish by 2029, when this act “shall” allow up to 144 square inches of living space for some chickens? The New Human Ecology, a vegan human ecology, is an efficient platform we will continue to promote for all chickens, individuals from other species, people, and ecosystems. Kill the bill. And then work together on a different strategy.

FOR ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND and documentation about this proposed Act, be sure to study these websites and support their work as well: United Poultry Concerns and Humane Farming Association.

 

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