Veterinary Association Rejects Supporting Hen Cage Ban Initiative

SNOQUALAMIE, Wash., April 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As a result of a unanimous vote, the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association does not support passage of Initiative-1130 should it make the November ballot.

Instead, the WSVMA previously stated its support for passage of Senate Bill (SB) 5487. The proposed legislation before the Senate in Olympia establishes a certification program for commercial egg laying chicken operations that will provide the nation's strongest certification and audit protections for commercial egg laying birds.  

The legislation is supported by the state's poultry and egg industry.  

The signature gathering and I-1130 are supported by the Humane Society of the United States, Washingtonians for Humane Farming, and Farm Sanctuary.

Prior to its executive board meeting on April 1, the WSVMA leadership heard four presentations concerning the pending legislation and I-1130, also known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.  Presentations were made by:

  • Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States, Factory Farming Campaign and a sponsor of the initiative;
  • Tim Amlaw, vice president of the American Humane Certified Farm Animal Program of the American Humane Association;
  • Greg Satrum, third generation egg farmer and co-owner of Willamette Egg Farms, president of the NW Poultry Council; and,
  • Dr. Ruth Newberry, an ethologist (animal behaviorist) and associate professor in Washington State University's Department of Animal Sciences and WSU's Center for the Study of Animal Well-being based in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Fundamentally, I-1130 takes issue with the manner in which laying hens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and Guinea fowl are housed and it would outlaw all commercial, caged housing systems that do not allow birds to enter and exit at will.  The initiative would also restrict commercial egg production to only a non-caged, yet unspecified method. All Washington egg sales, including eggs produced elsewhere would have to conform to the mandated production restrictions with the exception of liquid or dried egg products market.  

Passage of SB 5487 will establish the nation's most rigorous certification and auditing program based upon guidelines developed by scientific panels at the United Egg Producers (UEP), (http://www.uepcertified.com/media/pdf/UEP-Animal-Welfare-Guidelines.pdf) and the American Humane Association (AHA), the oldest animal welfare group in the nation.  Dr. Newberry, regarded as one of the nation's foremost poultry behaviorists, was a member of the UEP's scientific committee and helped develop the standards.

Certification legislation, which is expected to pass and be signed by the Governor, will:

  • Provide the Washington State Department of Agriculture with enforceable minimum standards protecting the health and well-being of commercial egg laying hens that are the strongest in the nation;
  • Provide consistent procedures and standards for egg production including at a minimum an annual audit for compliance;
  • Ensure audits are conducted by USDA inspectors or a third party such as the AHA, the group that now does the vast majority of the nation's audits and 24-hour video surveillance of commercial egg production operations;
  • Ensure that by July 9, 2012, all commercial egg farms of 3,000 or more birds must pass certification compliance at their own expense;
  • Ensure all operations have an approved AHA facility system plan approval and all new housing must be the enriched colony housing systems, not battery cages;
  • Includes all eggs sold in Washington meet or exceed the new certification requirements;
  • Unlike I-1130, will apply to all commercial laying hens, including those whose production is used for liquid or dried egg products; about a third of all the eggs produced in the nation, and
  • Provide a violation, penalty, and civil penalty matrix that strengthens the punishment for non-compliance and escalates with any subsequent violations.

The WSVMA leadership, representing more than half of the state's veterinarians, determined they would not support I-1130 because:

  • Animal housing issues are very complex and welfare is determined by many factors at different times and cannot be made better by simply addressing any one or two criteria as in I-1130.
  • Veterinarians are dedicated to continually improving and advancing animal health and welfare in the most reasonable and efficient manner for all animals.  This includes food animals that produce products more than 90-95 percent of the population consumes.
  • Washington veterinarians condemn poor practices and recognize substantive change for the betterment of hens will only come about through structure and standards including constant comprehensive review, frequent audits for compliance, and a willingness on the part of producers to fund and make those changes.
  • Washington veterinarians realize there are numerous, recognized, commercial poultry and egg production housing systems worldwide and that each provides assets and detriments to hen welfare in varying amounts and at differing times. To extol one as better than another in all aspects and without qualification is incorrect.
  • No facility, even when managed properly, has been shown to be conclusively better in all welfare aspects than that proposed in SB 5487, albeit this is still not ideal.
  • SB 5487 will provide the nation's toughest certification and audit program for commercials egg laying operations to be paid for by the producers themselves whereas there was no enhanced enforcement or auditing process offered in I-1130, only enhanced penalties.  
  • The legislation being considered is even tougher than that mandated in some European countries; often held up as the benchmark for welfare advancement.
  • I-1130 encompassed only shell eggs in its scope and ignored the mass of eggs cracked for liquid and dried egg products that also come from hens in commercial laying operations and that also need better environments.  About a third of all eggs in the U.S. are cracked for this market and nearly 18 percent of hens produce exclusively eggs to be cracked and would otherwise go without protections under I-1130.
  • Washington veterinarians acknowledge that the science across hundreds of studies is inconclusive as to the determination of the very best laying hen housing system.
  • There are no better scientific reviews, certification programs, or auditing systems currently than that offered in SB 5487 as provided by UEP and AHA.
  • I-1130 offered no definitive standards for animal care and use and no environmental enrichments.  It seeks total elimination of any and all caged housing systems and increased per bird area requirements without regard to other hen impacts, impacts to egg farmers, state revenues, retail costs, and availability of eggs recognized as the single most accessible form of high quality protein in the human diet.

"This is an important issue for Washington voters," said Dr. Debi Wallingford, a past-president of the WSVMA and a small animal veterinarian in Bellevue.  "We felt they would benefit from our professional opinion help them make a responsible choice, if it comes to that.  The issue of hen welfare is not as simple as doing away with cages and eliminating certain sales in Washington.

"In our opinion, only the pending legislation in SB 5487 offers a consistent structure to improve hen welfare and an annual audit plan for verification of compliance and that's why we back it.  We could have left it there and not offered an opinion on I-1130 except the initiative offers no plan for audit, no clear scientific standards or structure specifically researched to improve the lives of laying hens, and no additional empowerments for enforcement.  

"We felt it was important for the public to realize those facts because a vote to simply eliminate cages could drive the seven major producers and 6.5 million laying hens out of Washington and into states with even less protections for hen welfare; something we oppose.  If that happens, some 1,500 jobs would be lost and about a $285 million economic impact and $47 million loss in employee earnings.  

"The public clearly buys and consumes animal products and we recognize they also want to make sure those animals' lives are as healthy and enriched as producers can make them.  The public also demands safe food as do we.  Food safety is best managed in a progressive structured environment with strong oversight like that in the proposed legislation. "

Dr. Wallingford made it clear however, that if SB 5487 passes, Washington egg producers' responsibilities don't end there.

"Our profession has endorsed the pending legislation over I-1130 because it's better.  It is not ideal though.  Production is near optimal now and that's fine.  The question is; can we still produce at the level we do now for the human food supply and improve the lives of laying hens, too?  We believe the answer is yes, as do the best scientists and the most progressive egg farmers here and in Europe.  We expect the industry to aggressively pursue improving hen welfare as science and engineering show better ways to do so.  The industry needs to show us they realize that hen welfare does not stop here, it only begins with this important step and it should progress with all due speed based upon some of the deplorable conditions that sometimes exist elsewhere."

Contact: Charlie Powell, Public Information Director (509) 595-2017

SOURCE Washington State Veterinary Medical Association



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