Why Veterinarians Should Support S 3239/HR 3798
Congressman Kurt Schrader is the only veterinarian serving in the United States Congress. He is also the lead author of S. 3239/H.R. 3798, also known as the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012. The bill has been endorsed by HSVMA and the American Veterinary Medical Association, and I encourage all veterinarians to stand behind Representative Schrader in support of S. 3239/H.R. 3798.
S. 3239/H.R. 3798 is the result of an agreement between the animal welfare movement and the egg industry. In July 2011, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) agreed to work together toward enactment of federal legislation that will establish basic uniform standards for the housing and treatment of the 280 million egg-laying hens nationwide. S. 3239/H.R. 3798 would:
The bill calls for increased space per hen in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space required increasing in 3-year intervals over the next 15 to 18 years. Other aspects of the bill would take effect within a year of enactment.
As a shelter veterinarian, I am used to the challenge of providing animals with living space of sufficient quality and quantity. Routinely, I see cats in such small cages that they have nowhere to rest except their litter box, and I see dogs bouncing off the walls of barren concrete and wire runs. Thankfully, most shelters strive to provide more space and enrichment for the animals in their care, and most shelter dogs and cats have to live only temporarily in cramped and impoverished cages. Laying hens are less fortunate. Currently, the vast majority of the 280 million hens in the United States are provided with just 67 square inches of space per bird, approximately 2/3 the size of a sheet of paper, on which to live their entire lives. Experts in poultry science, behavior, and husbandry agree that hens need more space than they are currently given, even to simply stand comfortably, much less spread their wings or walk freely. Additionally, in current barren battery cages, hens have no opportunity to engage in instinctual behaviors, the most important of which is nesting. Nesting behavior is triggered by internal hormone fluctuations, and hens are so motivated to perform this behavior that it is called a behavioral “need.” When unable to nest, hens experience intense frustration.
When I became a veterinarian, I took an oath to protect animal welfare and to prevent and relieve animal suffering. There is no doubt in my mind that S. 3239/H.R. 3798 will serve to improve the welfare of millions of laying hens. Even if I wasn’t passionate about improving the welfare and relieving the suffering of intensely confined farm animals, I would simply be professionally obligated to support this legislation.
Perhaps a better question would be, why not? This bill has brought all the major stakeholders together. The egg industry likes it because it will prevent a patchwork of conflicting regulations from state to state and thereby level the playing field between egg producers across the country. Consumer groups such the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumers League support it. The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the AVMA, the American Association of Avian Pathologists, animal scientists such as Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Jeffrey Armstrong, and animal welfare organizations such as The HSUS and the ASPCA support it, all because they know it will improve the welfare of hens. Read joint support letter »
Some may feel that this legislation doesn’t go far enough – that we should aim to ban cages completely. While that would nice, such a change would not be possible in the large egg producing states. In 2008, I worked tirelessly to collect signatures for Proposition 2, a successful California ballot initiative that requires more space for hens in the state. My stature as a veterinarian helped me convince members of the general public to support the measure, and the list of 700 veterinarians who endorsed Prop 2, as well as the endorsement of the California Veterinary Medical Association lent huge support. I was passionate about ending cruel confinement of farm animals, and elated when all the efforts paid off and Prop 2 passed by a landslide. But California only houses about 7% of the country’s laying hens. The vast majority of U.S. laying hens live in states where legal protections such as Prop 2 would be impossible, because there is no ballot initiative process and little political will among lawmakers in those states.
While Prop 2 was a huge success, S. 3239/H.R. 3798 will be even better, because it will protect hundreds of millions of birds in all 50 states. In addition, this federal legislation will not only require more space for hens, but also require other improvements—such as enrichments for nesting and perching, and prohibitions on inhumane practices—to make it a more comprehensive policy for hen welfare.
Since veterinarians are viewed as experts in animal health and welfare, the public and elected officials look to us for leadership on issues such as S. 3239/H.R. 3798. I urge all veterinary professionals to join with me in supporting this important welfare legislation by contacting your legislators in support.
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Dr. Barb Laderman-Jones graduated from the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island, Canada, did an internship at Massachusetts SPCA's Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, and then completed a 3-year residency in Shelter Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Jones has worked with shelters across North America and around the world, including Brazil, Romania, and Israel. She is currently the shelter veterinarian for the Placer County SPCA in California. Dr. Jones is a member of the HSVMA Leadership Council.