In a surprisingly unprecedented move, the nation's largest egg farming cooperative, representing, according to their website, “95% of of all the nation's egg-laying hens,” has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to ban barren battery cages and phase in more humane standards nationwide, starting as early as this year.
The federal legislation they are pushing for would mimic some of the tenets of California's Proposition 2, which was passed by voters in 2008 eliminating all barren battery cages in the state by 2015. Granted, the proposed federal legislation only increases the individual bird space requirements from 48 square inches to 67 square inches per animal, but when you're talking about the welfare of approximately 280 million birds, a little more wing room couldn't hurt.
If enacted, and assuming other livestock industries don't lobby against it for fear of setting precedent and raising costs, this would be the first federal law relating to the on-farm treatment of any species of farm animal. It even goes so far as to prohibit the sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don't meet the law's requirements. Black market battery hen eggs? A little doubtful, unless egg costs rise exponentially, which you can bet will be the first talking point of the folks in charge of keeping chickens in their place. Cage free eggs are more expensive than conventional eggs (about 25% more according to the University of California Agricultural Issues Center), so it's not an entirely empty threat.
On the flip side, if this legislation does pass, it'll negate some of the 2008 doom-and-gloom predictions that were made pre-election, that Proposition 2 would effectively export cheaper egg production to more lenient surrounding states and to Mexico. While Oregon and Washington are currently considering similar measures, this new federal law would likely do a better job of preventing the egg businesses that are here from moving while protecting them from cheaper competition south of the border.
In the meantime, assuming you aren't one of the many new chicken owners in L.A., we suggest trying the eggs from either Kendor Farms or Peacock Family Farms. Both are local producers that are already ahead of the compassionate egg farmers curve, offering free range eggs that are full of delicious righteousness. As we approach the one year anniversary of the 2010 Iowa egg recall, it's a good time to get to know your local flocks again.