Is the US Egg Industry “Evolving”? Agreement Raises Hopes for Egg-Laying Hens
An Animal Rights Article from


Karen Davis, Ph.D., United Poultry Concerns (UPC)
July 2011

[Ed. Note: Please also read UPC's follow-up article Agreement Raises Hopes & Fears for Egg-Laying Hens: Our Perspective, July 10, 2011, and read Neither the Chicken Nor the Egg: Deal Struck Between HSUS and Egg Producers, July 11, 2011 and A Victory for Farm Animals?, July 13, 2011. And please visit Egg Production Articles for a myriad of articles about the horrors hens and male chicks endure to produce "commercial" eggs. Even if you buy eggs from "your friend next door who loves her chickens," have you asked what happens to those chickens when they're no longer "productive." The question is...Do you REALLY need to eat eggs? Please visit the Recipe Library for hundreds of healthy dishes (snacks, dinners, sandwiches, deserts and more) that never use animals.]

We should avoid hyperbole, stick to the facts, and tell the unvarnished truth. We must educate the public to understand that the only true way to animal welfare – to animals faring well – lies in eliminating the demand for animal products in favor of vegan food.

hens laying eggs
Weaver Brothers Egg Farm in Versailles, Ohio
Photo from Mercy for Animals

On July 7, 2011, The Humane Society of the United States announced an agreement had been reached with United Egg Producers, the egg industry’s main trade association, to refrain from further state-based campaigns in favor of federal legislation that would create uniform national welfare standards for the nation’s 280 million egg-laying hens. If enacted into law, federal regulations would:

1) Eliminate new construction of barren battery cage housing systems and replace the barren cages over time with “enriched colony cage” housing systems that would increase each hen’s current living space from approximately 77 square inches to about 116 square inches per hen. (Millions of hens currently have only 48 sq. in. of total living space in a cage crammed with 8 or 9 hens.) The “enrichment” includes small perches, dustbathing areas and nest boxes. Each 12-foot long by 4-foot wide “enriched” cage would hold 40 to 60 hens. An “enriched cage” operation of this type was opened in California in 2010 after CA voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition 2 requiring more living space for egg-laying hens in the November 2009 election.

Regarding Proposition 2

Regarding “enriched cages”

2) Prohibit forced molting of laying hens by starving them of all food for up to two full weeks in order to manipulate the economics of egg production. For an explanation of forced molting including United Poultry Concerns’ 13 year campaign to prohibit the practice. See

3) Require labeling of egg cartons to inform shoppers of the housing system in which the hens who laid those particular eggs lived. For example, “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from cage-free hens,” or “eggs from free-range hens.”

4) Mandate “euthanasia” (humane killing) standards for “spent” hens. [What does this mean?]

5) Prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these standards.

Many animal advocates fear that any effort to reform agribusiness practices will placate the public with illusions of “humane” treatment of farmed animals having no basis in the reality of actual farmed animal production practices. They fear that advocacy for a compassionate vegan diet is undermined and contradicted by campaigns that seek to mitigate some of the cruelest abuses of an inherently animal abusing industry. They fear that whatever welfare reforms are enacted into law will not be enforced regardless, and that all efforts to reform animal agribusiness are a betrayal of the animal victims. All of these fears are reasonable.

An additional reasonable fear in this particular case is that, should a federal law be enacted, it will be a diluted version of the initial proposals, and the cage, albeit “enriched” with tiny furniture including nestboxes that are actually just plastic strips, will be established for decades to come.

The position of United Poultry Concerns is as follows:

We hold that the best way to address poultry welfare issues is by combining an affirmative animal rights-pro vegan advocacy with efforts to improve conditions for the billions of birds who will never live to see a vegan world. We believe that we owe it to the birds to do whatever we can to make their lives less miserable through legislation and public pressure, and to hold the industries that own them accountable. Left to itself, animal agriculture has no morality.

We recognize there is little we can do to help animals trapped in food production. The number of animals, the globalization, the human population – the entire worldwide agribusiness system of producing animals, raising animals, transporting animals, depopulating animals, slaughtering animals, experimenting on animals – all of it is too huge, horrible, hidden, and complicated to monitor, let alone control. Yet, we believe that we cannot be held hostage to these factors and that, as activists, we must pursue every avenue on behalf of farmed animals, including that of welfare reform, but without overstating what can actually be accomplished. We should avoid hyperbole, stick to the facts, and tell the unvarnished truth. We must educate the public to understand that the only true way to animal welfare – to animals faring well – lies in eliminating the demand for animal products in favor of vegan food.

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