Introduced March 3, House Bill 20-1343 by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Wolcott, bans individual cages for chicken, turkey, duck, goose, or guinea fowl egg-laying hens, specifies pen sizes and design and requires “enrichments that allow them to exhibit natural behaviors, including, at a minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.”
The bill exempts farms with fewer than 3,000 birds and “official plants where mandatory inspection is maintained under the federal egg products inspection act” from the regulation.
The language of the bill mirrors similar bills introduced or passed into law in other states in recent years.
The push by animal welfare organizations including the Humane Society of the United States to replace “battery cages” commonly used for egg production has been active for decades.
Battery cages are stacked, individual cages large enough to contain an individual chicken and designed to allow eggs to roll away automatically onto a conveyor belt. Some 95% of table egg production in the U.S. comes from large chicken farms using this process.
Animal welfare organizations complain that confining chickens in such cages is inhumane and unnecessary.
Egg producers say that the demand for eggs makes alternative methods more expensive and labor-intensive.
“The relationship between the livestock and poultry industries and animal protection groups is an antagonistic one, at best,” says a 2014 report from the Congressional Research Service.
Attempts to set federal standards for poultry housing have failed consistently in Congress, says the report, resulting in animal welfare organizations taking the effort to ban the cages to the states.
California voters banned battery cages in a 2008 initiative that also requires all eggs imported into California come only from egg farms meeting California standards.
This set off an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by states citing violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin all joined in the lawsuit saying California’s regulations have unnecessarily cost consumers more than $350 million per year since 2015 and that the law is preempted by federal legislation.
The complaint says, “This case involves a single State’s attempt to dictate the manner of agricultural production in every other State. By its extraterritorial regulation of egg producers, California has single-handedly increased the costs of egg production nationwide by hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”
The Supreme Court denied the appeal January 7, 2019.
A 2015 study analyzing housing systems for poultry by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, an industry-wide coalition says, “the enriched colony system had total capital costs per dozen eggs that were 106% higher than conventional cages.”
The report also analyzes the health and safety risks to workers posed by housing systems that require manual collection of eggs.
“If you ask consumers if they want cage-free eggs, many will answer yes,” says a press release from the Farm Bureau, a private non-partisan organization representing agricultural producers. “The real question though, is whether they are willing to pay more than $1.00/dozen extra for the cage-free variety. So far most customers are balking at the premium.”
The bill is not yet scheduled for its first hearing in the House Rural Affairs & Agriculture committee.