Simply put, the abuse endured by each of the almost 10 billion farm animals who will be slaughtered this year would warrant felony cruelty charges if dogs or cats were similarly abused.
And remember, science has found that chickens are smarter than dogs or cats—they have foresight, empathy, and the ability to reason. As primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall puts it, “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined…they are individuals in their own right.”
Now, Congress has a chance to make a small but positive improvement in the lives of hundreds of millions of hens annually, by passing the Federal Hen Protection Act (HR 3798/S 3239). The legislation is bi-partisan: Among the 13 Senate co-sponsors are Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Among the 80 House co-sponsors are Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Dan Burton (R-Ind.), and Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
And perhaps more importantly, it’s endorsed by the industry that would be regulated—the United Egg Producers, which has even set up a website to support the bill.
Not only would the bill eventually give hens cages that are 20 times as big as their current file-drawer sized living spaces, but it would also—within a year—require labels on egg cartons so that consumers know what they’re buying and give tens of millions of hens almost immediate improvements in their living conditions (e.g., about 40 percent more space and a ban on starving them for two weeks to shock their bodies into another laying cycle).
This legislation is far from perfect; conditions for hens would not be anyone’s definition of good in these larger cages. But they’re significantly better than barren battery cages, and for the animals involved, this legislation will make a meaningful difference.
All compassionate members of Congress should co-sponsor this important bill.
Friedrich is in charge of legislation and litigation efforts for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization that provides lifelong care to more than 1,300 farm animals.