It’s official: a long-fought-for piece of legislation in Rhode Island to protect hens abused for eggs just became law. The measure phases out the extreme confinement of egg-laying hens and mandates that the birds be housed in cage-free facilities. Rhode Island joins six other states that have passed laws in recent years cracking down on battery cages, including California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Washington and Oregon, as consumers increasingly demand better treatment of farm animals.
The law is yet another signal to egg producers that battery cages — tiny wire cages where the birds are packed tightly together — are unacceptable. A hen confined in a cage typically has less space than the size of an iPad in which to live her entire life. The confinement causes constant frustration and prevents her from engaging in numerous important, natural behaviors, including nesting, dust bathing, perching and foraging. She’s unable even to spread her wings.
In 2012, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and our animal protection allies worked with the Rhode Island legislature to prohibit the extreme confinement of baby veal calves and mother pigs. We’ve been working with those coalition partners ever since to get hens added to the law. Our effort was opposed every step of the way by the egg industry.
The final version of the bill that passed the state legislature isn’t perfect, setting a deadline of 2026 that we believe is longer than necessary, and we encourage lawmakers to shorten the timeline. We are also calling upon Little Rhody Foods, the last egg producer in the state that still confines hens in cruel cages, to convert to cage-free immediately.
We’re grateful to all the Rhode Island legislators who recognized the cruelty inherent in confining farm animals to tiny spaces. We particularly appreciate the efforts of Rep. Pat Serpa, who spearheaded the bill, and who is one of the best allies that animals have in any statehouse in the nation.
We’re also celebrating the passage of several bills in Rhode Island to strengthen the state’s animal cruelty laws and to provide important protections for dogs, cats and animals used in research.
The Rhode Island victory comes on the heels of the qualification of a historic ballot measure in California last month that would spare millions of chickens—as well as pigs and calves—from suffering in tiny cages. And thanks to the work of the Humane Society of the United States and our allies, more than 200 of the world’s largest food companies, including Subway, Walmart, Unilever and Nestle, are actively getting rid of cages from their egg supply chains.
Globally, Humane Society International has garnered groundbreaking victories for egg-laying hens and other farm animals in some of the largest emerging markets, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa, India, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. In 2017 alone, we worked or partnered with 26 major food companies on their commitments to eliminate cages from their egg supply chains, including Kraft Heinz, JBS and Mondelez International, and secured the first-ever corporate cage-free commitments in Chile, Colombia and Singapore.
It was just over a decade ago that the Humane Society of the United States intensified its campaign to end the extreme confinement of farm animals. In that relatively short amount of time, the percentage of egg-laying hens housed in cage-free facilities in the United States has risen from approximately four percent to 17 percent. This increase means more than 35 million hens every year are spared the misery of cage confinement. We still have a long way to go before cage confinement for hens and all farm animals is a thing of the past. But this week, with the Rhode Island law, we are one step closer to the end.