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Will Stabenow Lay Egg if 'Egg Bill' Is in Farm Bill Markup?

09:59AM May 02, 2013

Via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Some dissenters call Egg Bill 'Hilton for hens.'

Earlier this week I reported that Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would likely include the so-called controversial Egg Bill in the coming farm bill draft. It is legislation she cosponsored for national standards of housing hens and supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 on April 25 for the humane treatment of egg-laying hens and the labeling of eggs. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) introduced companion HR 1731 in the House. Schrader and Feinstein introduced similar bills in the last Congress to increase the size of hen cages but failed to gain enough support.

The bill has strong opposition from agricultural groups, which fear such legislation would set a precedent leading to national production and welfare standards for other livestock. Those groups include the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and other meat and dairy groups. Some Egg Bill opponents have dubbed the measure "Hilton for hens" - which sums up the emotionality behind this topic.

The bills require a phase-in of larger cages over 15 to 18 years at a cost United Egg Producers has estimated at $4 billion. State laws would be nullified and new state laws or ballot measures regulating egg production would be prohibited.

Veteran farm bill observers say Stabenow is flirting with adding still more hurdles in getting a farm bill completed if she puts the Egg Bill language in her markup coming later this month. The path to the farm bill has already been an unsuccessful saga, starting first with the attempt to link it to the failed Super Committee process, then last year's inability to cross the finish line, and now potential budget-related and additional roadblocks ahead like including the Egg Bill language opposed by many mainstream farm groups.