The HSUS works year-round to secure the passage of animal protection bills in state legislatures, and to block bad ones advanced by lobbyists for Big Ag. Some lawmakers in Iowa have recently introduced two retrograde bills that seek to reverse the good work done by animal protection advocates in improving conditions for hens in battery cages. Today, on the blog, I have asked HSUS Midwestern Regional Director Anne Sterling to share her perspective on these bills that would force grocery stores to sell eggs from caged hens.
The factory farm lobby has reached a new low. Agribusiness is rushing two awful bills — HSB 623 and SF 2242 — quietly through the Iowa legislature, aimed at undoing much of the progress the animal protection movement has achieved for chickens. This bizarre legislation would actually force many grocery stores to sell a product that businesses and consumers are increasingly rejecting: eggs from caged hens.
Few industrial practices cause more animal suffering than the egg industry’s use of battery cages. In these barren wire cages, each hen is forced to spend her entire life in a space that’s smaller than the dimensions of an iPad. Virtually unable to move, the hens can’t engage in almost any of their natural behaviors, such as perching, nesting, foraging, or even walking more than a few steps. Caged chickens often suffer from bone fractures, feather loss, and metabolic disease; some hens even become caught in the wire and die of dehydration and starvation, unable to reach water or food that’s just inches away from them.
Virtually every major food retailer has adopted policies requiring explicitly cage-free conditions, a vast improvement over cage confinement. These companies are simply listening to their customers, who are rightly concerned about the enormous animal welfare and food safety problems these cages cause. Walmart, Costco, and Dollar Tree are among more than 200 companies that are making the transition to cage-free. But instead of heeding the market’s demands, lobbyists for caged-egg producers want to make these transitions to cage-free illegal, and force retailers to sell eggs from caged hens under threat of financial penalty.
Not only would these dangerous bills perpetuate the use of cruel and inhumane battery cages, but they would undoubtedly increase food safety risks for Iowa families. More than a dozen studies have shown that caging hens results in higher rates of the harmful pathogen salmonella. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 79,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with salmonella. Even the industry admits to the problem: one major trade publication states bluntly “Salmonella thrives in cage housing.”
The HSUS supports independent family farmers across Iowa and the rest of the country who work hard to treat their animals with greater decency; and, in fact, many of these farmers have converted to cage-free systems, or have never used cages in the first place. Consumers increasingly want to support them as well, yet this legislation would move the state of Iowa in the opposite direction of consumer demand.
In an ironic twist, factory farming corporations try to stop any regulation of their cruelty by saying that the “free market should decide.” But now that the free market, state legislatures, and courts are deciding against the worst factory farming practices, the corporations are changing their tune and demanding that the government bail them out, taking market share away from cage-free farmers.
It’s a matter of nonpartisan agreement that the government has at least a minimum role in regulating commerce to protect people and animals. But the government should never force private businesses to sell a product that both businesses and consumers reject as unsafe and unethical. Please join us in fighting back against these horrible bills by sharing this action alert with your friends and family in Iowa.