Battery cage

Good news came for egg-laying chickens last week as animal welfare groups and egg farmers announced an alliance in pursuing a federal law aimed at requiring larger cages and enrichment for the nation’s egg layers.

In what would seem to be an unlikely partnership, United Egg Producers, the primary industry group representing roughly 80 percent of American egg farmers, made the announcement with the largest animal protection organization, the Humane Society of the United States. “We always feel that if we can work with the folks who are handling the animals and get them to agree to improve standards, that’s the best outcome,” said Wayne Pacelle, The Humane Society’s chief executive officer.

The new standards would give hens 144 square inches of space up from the current standard, which is just 67 square inches per bird. They’d also be provided an opportunity to express more of their natural behaviors with the addition of perches, scratching and nesting areas.

Whether or not these new standards sublimate the overarching issue of America’s dependency on what many see as an unnecessary protein source and an environmentally destructive practice, it’s certainly taking the issue of animal rights to new heights – most likely the result of numerous undercover videos that capture poor and often abusive conditions on farms. Bruce Friedrich, senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary and former VP at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recently told CNN that, “Roughly 95 percent of the nation’s 280 million hens are crammed into battery cages – 18 by 20 inch cages that are so small that their lives are void of any natural activities beyond breathing and defecating. In these torture chambers, hens are given no mental stimulation and are unable to spread even one wing, so that they go insane from lack of mental stimulation, and their muscles and bones atrophy.”

These new practices have the ability to drastically transform the industry – but not for chickens in the system today. They will be long gone by the time the proposed law goes into effect. Most of the industry will be phasing in the expensive (an estimated $4 billion overhaul) changes over the next 18 years.

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Photo: CALM Action