AVMA lends its support to hen-housing legislation


Bill intended to improve housing conditions for egg-laying hens.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has taken what many have considered a somewhat divisive stance by choosing to support H.R. 3798, also known as the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments.

The bill, which is designed to improve the housing conditions of the nation’s 280 million egg-laying hens, is the product of an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers, and has already received endorsements from the American Association of Avian Pathologists and several animal welfare groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The AVMA reports that its executive board chose to support the bill after extensive deliberation and concluded that the proposed standards would likely improve the lives of egg-laying hens, based on available scientific findings. The organization acknowledges that its stance would not be popular with some, especially those who resist federal oversight of farm animal welfare.

A statement on the AVMA@Work website reads, “These fears are real, and members of the AVMA Executive Board—knowing that their actions would have ramifications regardless of which decision was made—respect and understand these concerns and the overall complexity of the issues associated with farm animal production and welfare. To that end, the AVMA will work to ensure that, if passed, implementation of the legislation results in the expected animal-welfare improvements, is reasonable, and minimizes any adverse impacts on producers, associated industries and consumers.”

If the law goes into effect, U.S. egg producers would have to switch to hen cages nearly twice their current size and those cages would need to be equipped with perches, nesting boxes, and other environmental enrichment tools to encourage natural behaviors for the hens. Additionally, the bill would require that euthanasia of egg-laying hens meet guidelines the AVMA has deemed humane and acceptable, that labels be placed on egg cartons detailing information about the hens’ living conditions, and that ammonia concentrations be limited in the henhouses. The provisions addressed in the bill would be phased in over a nine- to 15-year period.

While the American Farm Bureau Federation opposes the bill, stating that it attempts to replace science-based animal care practices with animal rights-driven federal control, many in the veterinary community have expressed support of the AVMA’s decision to support the legislation.

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