National Consumers League

Food

NCL Food Issues

Egg inspection bill good news for consumers (and hens!)

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Dozens of hens in battery cagesThere's a new bipartisan-supported bill in Congress that would improve our food safety and the quality of life of egg-laying hens. It would also empower consumers with the knowledge they need to make choices about the eggs they purchase for their families. It's a win-win for consumers and animal welfare allies.

As the nation’s pioneer consumer group, the National Consumers League has been working on behalf of consumers since 1899. Indeed, NCL was involved in the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Additionally, we have worked to ensure that food is labeled honestly and clearly. Because we are so passionate about these two areas, we are pleased to support a bill recently introduced in Congress called The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendment of 2012. This bill has many provisions that are good news for consumers.

The legislation is the result of a very admirable agreement between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers. This landmark agreement between animal rights activists and the egg industry is supported by both Democrats and Republicans and would modernize the egg industry. It would phase in larger, enriched colony cages over the course of 15 years. These cages, which are nearly twice as big as current battery cages, would allow hens to engage in natural behaviors, such as nesting.

These larger cages are good news for two reasons. The first is a food safety issue. When hens are stressed, they have higher rates of diseases like Salmonella and Campylobacter, two common foodborne illnesses. These diseases are then spread to human beings through the eggs the hens produce. Cage free hens have been shown to have lower rates of disease. This is due to several factors, including lower levels of stress and less crowding. It is likely that larger enriched cages will confer similar benefits, also reducing the rate of foodborne illness.

The second issue is one of animal welfare. Bigger cages mean a better, less stressful life for the hens. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the welfare of the animals that produce their food and this bill would ensure a better life for laying hens.

The other very important provision in this bill involves labeling. If the bill is adopted—and given its bipartisan support we fully expect it to be—eggs will have to bear a label describing the conditions under which they were laid. This will allow consumers to choose between battery cage, enriched cage, and cage free eggs. Any measure which empowers consumers by giving them more information to make choices is powerful and important.

NCL is proud to stand with the Humane Society in support of this bill and we encourage you to support it as well. The passage of this legislation will ensure greater protections for consumers and the hens that produce their food. This bill is truly a win-win.