Earlier this month, United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) surprised the agriculture world by agreeing to a “truce” over the use of enriched cages for egg-laying hens. The animal-rights activists at HSUS were quick to proclaim its victory over Big Egg. However, what HSUS may not realize is that egg farmers have been leaning toward adopting enriched cages on their own.
As part of the deal, UEP said it would endorse federal legislation to move hens out of “battery” cages and into the roomier accommodations by the end of 2029. In return, HSUS promised to shut down its $10 million ballot campaigns in Washington and Oregon. But UEP was already a step ahead of HSUS on the enriched-cage issue when the deal was struck.
The Oregonian reports:
Bob Krouse, chairman of United Egg Producers, said despite assumptions that farmers were forced into the agreement, many producers already have been looking to make the switch without affecting their profits and the affordability for consumers.
"It's the only way we can see to move forward as a group on a fair and equitable basis," Krouse said.
In other words, Big Egg took to heart the American Humane Association’s finding last year that enriched cages for egg layers are indeed "humane." The legendary animal welfare expert Temple Grandin agrees that these new cages are a big improvement.
More surprising is HSUS’s about-face on the issue. Just one day before the news about the truce broke, HSUS’s front group Oregonians for Humane Farms argued that a law requiring enriched cages would be “an illusion of reform and only barely improves the quality of life for hens.” (And HSUS’s statement against enriched cages, dated last July, is still up on its website.) That’s a harder-nosed approach than what animal-welfare experts have been saying for the past year.
At best, HSUS is a Johnny-come-lately on the enriched-cage question. At worst, the animal-rights group is taking credit for a change egg farmers had been intending all along. And with HSUS’s stated agenda for ending egg production in the United States, does it really deserve the benefit of the doubt?