The main backer of the bill is an animal liberation group called the Humane Society of the United States (not affiliated with any humane society pet shelters). HSUS, like PETA, is run by ideological vegans who see any use of animals for food as inhumane. Even if hens were given a Jacuzzi and a personal masseuse, HSUS still wouldn’t buy their eggs. HSUS hopes to “get rid of the entire [animal agriculture] industry,” in the words of a vice president.
In a case of strange bedfellows, the United Egg Producers, a trade group, also supports the bill. Just a few years ago, the UEP’s president opposed HSUS and its anti-egg efforts, saying “[s]cientists have declared the modern cage egg production systems used in the U.S. to be humane and ethical.”
UEP’s present support for federal legislation only comes after years of getting beaten up by HSUS and other vegan advocacy groups. HSUS bankrolled the 2008 “Proposition 2” ballot initiative in California. Prop 2 required California egg farms to make costly infrastructure changes by 2015. Threatened by other similar costly propositions in other states, the egg trade group caved into HSUS’s demands.
The egg trade group made a business decision with a gun to its head. But the problem with federal legislation is several-fold.
For one, it removes farming decisions from those best qualified to make them — farmers and farm veterinarians — and places them in the laps of fringe interest groups. Animal liberation groups are not run by farmers or veterinarians but by ideological activists. They don’t know one whit about how to raise animals on farms. They simply want to shut farms down. Essentially, the fox is pushing legislation for the henhouse.
Second, legislation can have the unintended consequence of scrambling the marketplace. European regulations on hen housing took effect in January 2012, and the negative effects were quickly felt by consumers. Prices skyrocketed 67 percent in some countries as supply shortages hit.
Regulations that lead to henhouse infrastructure changes favor large companies that have access to capital for renovations. Smaller farmers have more of an uphill struggle, and many will simply go out of business if this law passes.
A better law than H.R. 3798 would be a farm bill amendment proposed by Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) that would prevent animal-rights interference in interstate commerce. This would nullify a California state law, passed after Prop 2, that would require all eggs sold in the state to come from farms that abide by Prop 2 regulations. In effect, this law is California telling out-of-state farms how to produce eggs.
If the King amendment passes, it would ensure California families have access to affordable protein. And it would also give Californians a good reason to reconsider Proposition 2 altogether.
Presently, consumers already have a wide variety of choices before them when shopping for eggs: Cage-free, conventional, organic, free-range, and so on. That proliferation of practices leads to a healthy diversity of farming practices and offers consumers choices.
In fact, a few years ago the UEP president said: “We believe in consumer choice and will meet the market demand but we do not believe these choices should be taken away by animal activists’ agendas.”
That principle still holds true today, even if the UEP has been cajoled into joining those who have made it their goal to decrease consumer choices and jack up the price of eggs as one small step on road to their elimination from the human diet. H.R. 3798 may seem like boutique legislation relevant to only a few. But its passage would be a major loss for small egg farmers and consumers. It would also reward the extremism and brinksmanship of vegan activists, encouraging them to spread their coercive tactics throughout the food industry.
Berman is the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom.