Farm Bill stall delays Congressional action on horse slaughter, attending animal fights, & laying hen cage size

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July/August 2012:

Farm Bill stall delays Congressional action on horse slaughter, attending animal fights,  & laying hen cage size

    WASHINGTON D.C.–The odds may have lengthened just before the Fourth of July recess week against the final version of the 2012 Farm Bill including measures favored by animal advocates–but not for any reason having anything to do with laying hen cage sizes,  horse slaughter,  or cockfighting and dogfighting,  among other topics addressed by proposed Farm Bill amendments.

The week previous to the Fourth of July recess,  explained the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog “Path to the 2012 Farm Bill,”  was “originally the week the House Agriculture Committee was going to debate and approve its version of the 2012 Farm Bill,” after the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill on June 21, 2012,  by a comfortable 64-35 margin.

The House process,  however,  was postponed by scheduling conflicts.  Then,  “Word began to informally filter out that leadership does not intend to bring the farm bill to the floor for a vote this summer.”

The bill approved by the Democratic majority in the Senate is apparently unacceptable to much of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives,  due to conflicts over commodity subsidy programs and food stamp program funding.

The Farm Bill in most years is an omnibus of legislation attached to the annual funding appropriation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The omnibus items are typically associated with USDA functions,  including enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act.  The current USDA appropriation legislation expires on September 30, 2012.  If an omnibus Farm Bill cannot be passed before September 30, Congress may vote to extend the present appropriation,  either until a more comprehensive Farm Bill can be passed in the brief term-ending session following the November 2012 national election,  or until a new Farm Bill can be passed by the new Congress that will take office in January 2013.

Either way,  a short-term extension of the USDA appropriation is unlikely to include substantive amendments,  including potentially controversial animal welfare measures.

The House Appropriations Committee had on June 19,  2012 approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Representative Jim Moran (D-Virginia) to reinstate a clause which forbids the use of federal funding to inspect meat from slaughtered horses.  Without USDA inspection,  meat may not be sold for human consumption.

The anti-horse slaughter inspection clause was included in USDA appropriation bills from 2005 through 2010,  but was removed in 2011 by a joint House/Senate conference committee.  The clause allowed U.S. horse slaughterhouses to pay the estimated $5 million per year cost of USDA inspection themselves.  The last three horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. did briefly pay for USDA inspections before closing in 2007.

Moran pointed out that the Appropriations Committee had cut funding for the USDA meat inspection program to $9 million less than was appropriated in 2012.  Moran argued that allowing USDA funding to be used to inspect horsemeat would amount to subsidizing horsemeat exports,  at the expense of ensuring that meat sold in the U.S. is uncontaminated by potentially deadly pathogens.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill did not include any new animal welfare measures.  “Unfortunately,  Senate leaders did not allow either of the major animal welfare amendments to get a vote,” said Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian.  These amendments were introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut),   to make taking a child to a dogfight or cockfight a federal crime,  and by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) to set federal standards for housing laying hens.

Hen cages

    “I hope to work with my colleagues,  on both sides of the issue,  to have this legislation considered at a later date.  The future of the industry is dependent on it,”  Feinstein said afterward,  “and I am confident that we will be able to get there.” Feinstein noted that her amendment was “endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association,  the Association of Avian Veterinarians,  the American Association of Avian Pathologists,  the Center for Food Safety,  and the Center for Science in the Public Interest,”  exempted producers who keep fewer than 3,000 hens,  and over the 18-year proposed phase-in time would add only 1% to the price of eggs.

The Feinstein amendment,  proposed on May 24,  2012,  was an attempt to expedite passage of legislation introduced on January 23, 2012 by Representative Kurt Schrader.  The Schrader bill,  HR 3798, originated from an agreement reached in June 2011 between the Humane Society of the U.S. and United Egg Producers,  a trade association representing the producers of about 88% of the 80 billion eggs sold in the U.S. each year.

Under the agreement,  HSUS withdrew ballot initiative campaigns seeking laying hen standards in Washington and Oregon,  in exchange for UEP collaboration in pursuit of a weaker federal standard which would govern the entire U.S. laying hen industry. Structurally,  HR 3798 would amend the Egg Products

Inspection Act of 1970,  last amended in 1998.  Added would be requirements for egg labeling to accurately describe the conditions under which the eggs were produced,  for “adequate environmental enrichments” in laying hen cages,   and for a gradual phase-in of new space requirements of 124 square inches for white laying hens,  and 144 square inches for brown laying hens,  who are somewhat larger.

To be fully implemented by 2029,  the new space requirement would give each hen nearly twice as much room as now to move about, including the now precluded opportunity to stretch her wings. The HSUS/UEP agreement was initially to be in effect for only one year,  but now appears likely to be renewed until HR 3798 or a similar bill wins passage.

“Divide & conquer”

    While the alliance of HSUS and UEP was surprising,  after years of an adversarial relationshp,   “Opposition to the proposal also has brought together a surprising pairing–the Humane Farming Association and most of the nation’s leading beef and pork producers, who fear they will be the next target of legislation,”  observed Associated Press farm writer Tracie Cone.

The “basic argument” for HR 3798,  HFA executive director Brad Miller told Cone,  is that “Since they can’t outlaw cages everywhere,  let’s not outlaw them anywhere.”

A year of controversy over HR 3798 among animal advocates intensified on July 2,  2012 when host Bob Linden posted a petition at calling on the Farm Animal Reform Movement to disinvite HSUS factory farming campaign manager Paul Shapiro from the FARM-hosted AR 2012 conference,  to be held August 2-5 in Washington D.C.  Instead,  Linden posted to Facebook on July 6,  FARM founder Alex Hershaft disinvited Linden.

“A group called United Poultry Concerns also opposes this effort and others like it that could be seen as a partnership between activists and industry,”  blogged Animal Agriculture Alliance communications director Sarah Hubbart on July 3,  2012.  “So it seems that the vegan agenda is not quite as unified as it appears. Perhaps agriculture should take a page out of the activist’s playbook.  How can we ‘divide and conquer’?”

Agribusiness is already pursuing a “divide and conquer” strategy against HR 3798,  Washington Post writer Dan Eggen hinted on June 20,  2012.  Unhappy with the deal between HSUS and UEP, Minnesota egg and pig producer Amon Baer formed Egg Farmers of America,  represented by the same lobbying firm,  the Russell Group of Arlington,  “that represents the National Pork Producers Council, the International Dairy Foods Association,  Hormel and many other large agribusiness interests, according to lobbying records,”  Eggen wrote.  “Baer’s group has paid Russell $70,000 for lobbying since the fourth quarter of last year.” But Russell lobbyist Tyson Redpath told Eggen that there is “absolutely no connection” between the Egg Farmers of America and Russell’s other agribusiness clients.

United Pork Producers Council spokesperson Dave Warner “said the council played no role in forming the egg farmers group,”  Eggen added.

Feinstein denounced what she termed the “misconception that this [legislation] will set a precedent beyond egg producers,  and impact other industries such as pork,  beef or poultry” produced for slaughter.

“Regulations governing eggs date back 30 years and have had no effect on other industries to date,”  Feinstein said.  “For instance,  the Food & Drug Administration has on-farm enforcement authority for egg farms,  but not for meat or poultry farms.  This [legislation] will not change that.  Furthermore,”  Feinstein recalled,  “the meat industry has insisted on preemption of state laws and emphasized the importance of national standards for decades. This legislation applies the same principle to the egg industry.”

Feinstein emphasized that better hen welfare should help the egg industry as well as the hens.  “One survey from Feedstuffs magazine,”  said Feinstein,  “found that hen mortality in larger, enriched cages declined by 45% compared to conventional battery cages.  The survey also found that the number and quality of eggs per hen improved, from an average of 399 eggs to 421 in enriched cages. The weight-per-case of eggs also increased,  from 47.9 pounds to 49.4 pounds.”

European Union

    Animal advocacy opposition to HR 3798 centers on whether the environmentally enriched colony cages that the bill prescribes really represent a significant advance for animal welfare.  Comparisons are often made to experience in the European Union,  where colony caging in lieu of battery caging has been required by law since January 1, 2012.  But the cages required in the EU,  though about half again larger than the battery cages they replace,  provide about 20% less useable space per hen than HR 3798 would prescribe.

Despite a 12-year phase-in allow-ance since the EU law was adopted in 1999,  compliance is spotty.  The EU Commission on June 21,  2012 sent a “reasoned opinion” to ten member nations,  putting them on notice that enforcement of sanctions for infringement of the battery cage ban may follow.

“The Commission welcomes the efforts made by the Member States which have complied with the rules,”  the notice said. “However,  full compliance by all Member States is essential to avoid market distortions and unfair competition.”  The “reasoned opinion” followed the dispatch of inquiries about compliance sent on January 26,  2012 to Belgium,  Bulgaria,  Greece,  Spain,  France,  Italy, Cyprus,  Latvia,  Hungary,  the Netherlands, Poland,  Portugal,  and Romania.   All 13 nations were reported to be in violation of the battery cage ban.  The “reasoned opinion” was not sent to Bulgaria, Latvia,  and Romania,  either because their egg producers are now in compliance or because they no longer sell eggs to other EU nations.

Lewis Panther of The People on May 27,  2012 questioned whether British egg producers are complying with the intent of the EU battery cage ban,  even if they are technically in compliance.  The EU regulations “say egg-producing hens must have room to perch, scratch,  flap and nest,”  Panther wrote,  but “secretly filmed footage reveals [British hens] are battery-farmed in all but name.”

Said Hillside Animal Sanctuary founder Wendy Valentine,  “It took years of campaigns by organizations like ours to get battery cages banned,  but none of us imagined such a cruel system would be replaced by one that’s barely any better.  Hens are still crammed into cages in huge windowless sheds where the only time they see the light of day is at the end of their productive life when they’re transported to the slaughterhouse.”

“The U.K. government has worked hard to push for barren battery cages to be banned,”  British agriculture minister Elliot Morley told Sean Poulter of the Daily Mail a week later,  “but I am not convinced enriched cages have any real advantages over conventional barren cages.  I want to hear people’s views on the subject to see if the U.K. should follow Germany and ban enriched cages too,”  Morley said.  Germany banned hen caging altogether in 2007.  Morley announced that beak-trimming would be banned in Britain,  a practice that producers consider essential if hens are to be caged in close quarters,  whether in battery or colony cages.

“Concern about battery production has provoked a surge in sales of free-range eggs.  Ten years ago,  fewer than 5% of the 10 billion eggs we eat per year were free-range,”  Poulter wrote,  “but today the figure is 23%.”

Said Compassion In World Farming chief policy advisor Peter Stevenson,  “The battery cage system is factory-farming at its worst. But ‘enriched’ cages offer no significant welfare improvement for hens.”  Stevenson told Poulter that as many as 500,000 hens remained in old-style battery cages in Britain after the EU ban took effect. He suggested that possibly 46 million hens remain in battery cages elsewhere in Europe.

Paradoxically,  CIWF chief executive Philip Lymbery on July 7,  2011 endorsed the HSUS/UEP agreement to seek legislation mandating colony caging in the U.S. that became HR 3798.

New Zealand

    Debate parallel to the debate over HR 3798 has been underway in New Zealand for more than six years,  beginning when a Parliamentary regulations review committee recommended in May 2006 that battery hen caging should be phased out.

In September 2007 the Wellington SPCA won a cruelty conviction against Trevor Soon Chin,  director of the Wellington Egg Company,  for violations of the New Zealand Animal Welfare Act,  many of them associated with the living conditions in battery caging.

In October 2011 the New Zealand National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee proposed a ban on battery caging that would allow colony cages,  with a phase-in time of 18 to 20 years,  requested by the Egg Producers Federation.  The proposed ban has not yet been legislatively enacted.

New Zealand SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger told Radio New Zealand that she has seen EU-style colony cages in use in Germany,  and “I couldn’t see there was any advantage to the birds.”

The New Zealand SPCA,  the Green Party of New Zealand,  and the animal advocacy organization Save Animals From Experiments,  formed in 1932 as the Auckland Branch of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection,  argue for the complete prohibition of caged egg production.

Members of SAFE and the Coalition to End Factory Farming on June 25,  2012 blocked access to the Mainland Poultry complex in Waikouaiti,  the largest caged egg production complex in New Zealand.

“The action is being carried out to highlight the continued cruelty of cages,”  SAFE campaign director Eliot Pryor told media,  “and especially to stop the introduction of the proposed colony battery cage system.  So-called enriched colony cages are not an acceptable alternative to the existing system,  as the welfare benefits are so minimal,”  Pryor said. –Merritt Clifton

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.