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Strange coopfellows
A strange accord produces a bill on egg production

Date published: 2/19/2012

HAS CUPID'S ARROW struck again? Two organizations generally on opposite sides of poultry issues appeared on Capitol Hill last week holding hands--and asking Congress to pass a bill they both support.

The unlikely union of the Humane Society of the United States with the Egg Producers of America certainly has turned heads. HSUS (not to be confused with local humane societies) takes some pretty radical positions on animal rights, like its stark "Breakfast of Cruelty" campaign urging less meat and egg consumption and its polemics against animal-rescue groups and dog breeders. In contrast, members of the egg-producers industry hold 200 million chickens in tight quarters in the United States to boost efficient production. Finding common ground between the two would challenge any mediator.

But, somehow, they've forged an accord. The result is the Egg Producers Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, a bill that would codify the deal, introduced by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who's a veterinarian), and co-sponsored by another Democrat and two Republicans.

Mr. Schrader's bill would, among other things,

Gradually require replacement of today's tight quarters with "colony" pens, doubling the room for laying hens.

Phase in features such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas that allow chickens to act like chickens.

Require clear labeling on cartons so consumers would know under what conditions the eggs were produced.

Prohibit restriction of food or water to prolong the egg-laying cycle.

Require no federal funds.

Even most confirmed carnivores would agree that cruelty-free agricultural methods are preferable. Allowing hens a little room to spread their wings and places to perch, nest, and scratch seems pretty reasonable.

But other farm organizations, including the National Pork Producers Council, don't like the bill: "This one-size-fits-all farm takeover bill is government intrusion on family farms at its worst and is unnecessary. If enacted, it would open a Pandora's box for special-interest groups to pursue similar federal laws on pig farmers, dairy farmers, and other family-farming operations."

And the editor of Lancaster Farming wrote that it was "disturbing to contemplate giving the federal government an ever-greater say in how farmers raise the nation's food."

That's a lot of clucking over a little more room for chickens. The accord between the HSUS and the egg producers is something to crow about.