Why MFA Supports the Federal Hen Protection Bill
While all animal protection groups that actively spearhead legislative campaigns for
laying hens support the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendment of 2012—"Federal
Hen Protection Bill" for short—some people have expressed concern about MFA's
support for this effort. Many of these concerns are based on information, and often
misinformation, touted by opponents of this important piece of animal protection
legislation. Allow us to set the record straight about what this bill will and will not
do and why MFA feels this is such an important piece of legislation.
The primary opposition to this bill comes from the pork and beef lobbying groups,
as they dread the idea of federal legal protection for animals on factory farms. They
are fiercely lobbying to kill this bill, and they have an enormous amount of influence
on Capitol Hill. Animal advocates should fight hard to beat them.
The use of barren battery cages is perhaps the cruelest form of institutionalized
animal abuse in existence. These cages are so cruel they have been condemned by
animal welfare experts worldwide, banned in the entire European Union, as well as
in California and Michigan, and shunned by major food retailers, including Wolfgang
Puck, Whole Foods, and Burger King.
Despite widespread opposition to barren battery cages, the vast majority of eggs in
the United States still come from hens confined for nearly their entire lives to cages
so small they are unable to fully stretch their wings or engage in most other natural
However, if passed, the Federal Hen Protection Bill would:
- Require all egg farms in the country to replace barren battery cages with
new colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen nearly double
the amount of space, as well as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas,
which will allow hens to express more natural behaviors;
- Mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the
method used to produce the eggs: "eggs from caged hens," "eggs from cage-
free hens," and "eggs from free-range hens." This undoubtedly would reduce
the demand for eggs from hens kept in cages and inspire many people to
explore vegan options;
- Outlaw the practice of starving hens in order to shock their bodies into
another laying cycle (every year, millions of egg-laying hens are still denied
access to any food for up to two weeks);
- Reduce noxious ammonia levels in henhouses; and
- Prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that
don't meet these requirements.
Many of the provisions of the bill would take effect immediately, but the Federal Hen
Protection Bill sets specific phase-in periods requiring egg producers nationwide
to expand the space given to egg-laying hens every six years until reaching the
final minimum space requirement for birds within fifteen years, and in a couple of
instances, within no more than eighteen years.
Who supports the bill?
The list of those supporting the Federal Hen Protection Bill illustrates just how
virtually unanimous the animal protection movement is in its position:
Who is against the Federal Hen Protection Bill?
Despite the good that this bill would do, it does have its opponents. Most of the
backlash against this bill comes from the factory farming industry. In fact, nearly
every national pro-factory farming organization in the country opposes this bill.
These groups see the writing on the wall. When the cruelest egg farming practices
are outlawed, it is only a matter of time before the cruelest practices of the meat and
dairy industries are banned as well.
Here is a list of the national groups that oppose the Federal Hen Protection Bill:
- American Farm Bureau Federation
- National Farmers Union
- National Turkey Federation
- National Pork Producers Council
- National Milk Producers Federation
- National Cattlemen's Beef Association
- American Sheep Industry Association
- Egg Farmers of America
- Humane Farming Association
But if the "Humane Farming Association" is an animal protection organization,
why would they oppose the Federal Hen Protection Bill?
There is a reason pro-factory farming organizations never list HFA as a threat.
Unfortunately, the Humane Farming Association has never supported a single anti-
factory farming campaign that's been placed on a ballot, including California's
Proposition 2, Arizona's Proposition 204, and Florida's Amendment 10. While it
condemns farmed animal protection bills that in its view don't go far enough, HFA
has never taken part in any campaign that has succeeded in banning any farmed
animal confinement practice anywhere.
In fact, the HFA even opposed successful efforts to ban the sale and production of
foie gras in California, a ban which will save countless ducks and geese from hideous
abuse when it takes effect on July 1, 2012. HFA not only opposed the measure to
outlaw this horrific factory farming practice that causes extreme animal suffering, it
launched an ad campaign urging the bill's defeat.
A cage is a cage! Will new colony housing systems really be better for the
Nobody claims that the Federal Hen Protection Bill will end all suffering of egg-
laying hens in this country. Male chicks will still be ground up alive or suffocated at
hatcheries, hens will still be debeaked, and chickens will still be needlessly exploited
and killed by the egg industry for greed and profit. However, the bill does help
end some of the cruelest egg industry practices while setting an important legal
precedent that will facilitate the passage of more and better federal laws to protect
Instead of being forced to always stand on cage wire, which can cause chronic and
crippling pain for chickens, colony housing provides hens with perches to rest
on. Rather than being crammed in a cage the size of a filing cabinet drawer with
five to ten other hens, colony housing provides enough space for basic movement,
including walking around. And at the end of their laying cycle, these birds will no
longer be starved for up to two weeks in order to shock their bodies into another
laying cycle, as still happens to many birds in the egg industry.
While far from perfect, it is undeniable that colony housing under the
provisions of the Federal Hen Protection Bill will significantly reduce the suffering
of egg-laying hens in this country.
It's only a few inches of extra space. How can you call that an improvement?
Typical colony housing systems are almost twenty times larger than a conventional battery cage.
Barren battery cages typically measure 18 x 20 inches and
house anywhere from five to ten hens each. Under the Federal Hen Protection Bill,
barren battery cages will be replaced with colony housing systems that measure 4 x
12 feet, with half the stocking density.
So instead of ten hens in an 18 x 20-inch wire cage—where the animals can't
spread a wing or do anything natural to them—egg producers will have fifty to
sixty hens in a 4 x 12-foot enclosure, which will include environmental enrichments
that the birds appear to value significantly. For the animals, this is a meaningful
I heard that the Federal Hen Protection Bill will take away states' rights to
pass laws protecting farmed animals. Is that true?
In reality, the bill would set national standards for space. State cruelty laws
concerning torture, abuse, and the denial of veterinary care would still apply to the
nation's egg producers in those few states in which such laws currently exist. The
federal bill would amend the Egg Products Inspection Act, which deals with the sale
of eggs, not with state cruelty laws.
Furthermore, in the major egg-producing states like Iowa, which has over 50 million
hens—more than twice as many egg-laying hens as any other state—voter-initiated
ballot measures are not allowed and there is no realistic pathway for concerned
citizens to ban cruel battery cages or pass other laws to protect farmed animals.
Moreover, having just passed a law prohibiting animal protection groups from
exposing cruelty to animals at factory farms, the Iowa legislature is particularly pro-
factory farming and extremely unlikely to ever pass laws to protect farmed animals.
Considering the number of major egg-producing states that don't allow ballot
initiatives, state-by-state regulations quickly become a dead end in our efforts to
help all 280 million egg-laying hens nationally. The only way to positively affect all
of these animals is through federal legislation.
Indeed this bill would mean that all future legislation concerning cage size for hens
would come from the federal level; however, it would also prevent pro-factory farm
states like Iowa from ever passing its own laws to allow egg factory farms to provide
even less space for hens. In short, the Federal Hen Protection Bill will help all 280
million egg-laying hens in the United States, regardless of the political landscape in
Won't the Federal Hen Protection Bill invalidate California's Proposition 2?
No. California's Proposition 2 mandates that all egg-laying hens be given enough
room to "stand up, turn around and stretch their limbs." A new University of
California Davis study concluded that a mere 93 square inches of barren floor space
fulfills this requirement, a finding we dispute. The Federal Hen Protection Bill
would require a minimum of 124 square inches of floor space for white hens and
144 square inches for brown hens (a larger breed), and require improvements not
stipulated by Prop 2, such as enrichments, mandatory egg carton labeling ("eggs
from caged hens," etc.), and more. The federal bill also specifies that California
producers would have to come into compliance with larger cage space earlier than
the rest of the nation—by 2015, when Prop 2 is scheduled to take effect.
But the Federal Hen Protection Bill won't go into effect for eighteen years after
it is passed. Isn't that too long?
That's not true. Actually, most of the provisions of the bill would take effect
immediately, but the bill does set specific phase-in periods requiring egg producers
nationwide to expand the space given to egg-laying hens every six years until
reaching the final minimum space requirement for birds within fifteen years, and in
a couple of instances, within no more than eighteen years.
In the spirit of Proposition 2, California egg producers would be required to provide
a minimum of 134 square inches of floor space per brown hen and 116 square
inches per white hen by 2015—less than three years from now. California egg
producers would be required to be in complete compliance with the bill's space
requirements in less than nine years.
Of course, MFA would prefer that people stop exploiting chickens and other animals
entirely and immediately, which is why we spend the vast majority of our time and
resources promoting veganism. But it would not be in the animals' best interest not
to support efforts to lessen their suffering in the meantime.
But there aren't any criminal penalties for egg producers who violate the
Federal Hen Protection Bill. How will it be enforced?
The Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA) that is on the books already has civil and
criminal penalties—including fines and imprisonment for noncompliance. The
Federal Hen Protection Bill would simply amend the current EPIA to require egg
producers to provide basic welfare improvements for hens.
Verification of adoption of these improved standards would be the responsibility
of the USDA, which is already tasked with inspecting egg farms. Unlike the more
difficult detection of noncompliance with other animal welfare laws, like those
relating to dogfighting rings, because egg factory farms are stationary, massive
industrial operations, determining whether or not barren battery cages are in use
would be a relatively simple task for the USDA.
Additionally, you can be sure that no reputable grocery retailers would dare flout
this new regulation and risk their entire businesses by buying eggs from an illegal
The Bottom Line:
This bill, if enacted, would be the first federal law relating to the treatment of
chickens used for food, the first federal law relating to the treatment of animals
while on farms, and the first federal law improving the treatment of farmed animals
in more than thirty years. Meat and dairy industry lobbyists are lined up to kill it,
while animal protection groups are lined up in support of it. MFA is proud to stand
with our fellow animal protectionists in defense of the hundreds of millions of
animals who will be positively affected if this bill is enacted.