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Humane Society, egg industry want law to standardize henhouses

July 7, 2011 |  9:24 am

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers said Thursday that they will jointly petition Congress for legislation to shift the commercial egg industry to new, standardized hen housing for chickens.

The aim is to have the law implemented by June and adopted by the entire industry by the end of 2029. The cost to retrofit all of the nation's egg-laying henhouses is estimated to be about $4 billion, officials from both groups said.

The new standard would move from a 67-square-inch cage space per bird, to an enclosure that is 124 square inches of space per bird. In addition, the enclosures would include a perch for the bird, dust bathing area, scratching areas and a nesting box for hens to lay their eggs.

Both sides said Thursday that federal legislation -- rather than the current hodgepodge of state laws and regulations -- was the only way to deal with what has long been an intense political and economic battle between the agriculture industry and animal welfare advocates.

It was a rare moment of agreement between the long-warring enemies, involving undercover videos that became an all-too-common headache for farmers.

The Humane Society has aggressively backed state legislation in recent years that alters how animals are treated in the food-production system, and was a key backer in the successful campaign to get California voters to pass Proposition 2 that barred the “cruel confinement” of farm animals, targeting things like smaller cages for egg-laying chickens or gestation crates for pregnant sows.

The agriculture community, in turn, had fought back by lobbying in Washington and backing state anti-trespassing bills that would bar people from photographing farmland without permission.

As part of the agreement, the Humane Society and United Egg Producers said they will not "initiate, fund or support" any ballot initiatives or local or state legislation that would define hen space, neither would they back investigations or litigation against each other or United Egg Producers members.

For the record, 2:45 p.m. July 7: A previous version of this post reported that the groups made their announcement Wednesday. The announcement came Thursday.

--P.J. Huffstutter