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MailTribune.com
  • State, federal laws improve quality of living for hens

    But egg farmers say disparities between the laws make planning difficult
  • EAGLE POINT — A national bill imposing higher quality of life standards for hens on U.S. egg farms will not be voted on until 2013, but owners of an Oregon egg farm with an Eagle Point distribution center said they support it.
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  • EAGLE POINT — A national bill imposing higher quality of life standards for hens on U.S. egg farms will not be voted on until 2013, but owners of an Oregon egg farm with an Eagle Point distribution center said they support it.
    But the operation, Willamette Egg Farms, said it also is in a bit of a holding pattern, as similar state legislation was passed in June, and any changes from one standard to the other could mean twice the investment cost.
    And since the cost of one change in standards could run as high as $50 million over 15 years, Willamette officials said they want to be sure.
    "With the ballot initiatives pending, it certainly makes you nervous where you could invest a lot and then have it be illegal," said Willamette co-owner Greg Satrum.
    The combination of recently passed state legislation and a national agreement staved off, at least for now, plans for a statewide initiative vote on standards for egg farms.
    Willamette Egg Farms, now in Canby, formerly operated in Eagle Point but moved in October 2010, as the equipment in Eagle Point was outdated to the point where the pnant could not produce competitively. The site is now used as a regional distribution center.
    A national bill focused on quality of life for hens has yet to be drafted but likely will be similar to an agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States.
    If passed, egg farmers would be required to adopt Enriched Colony Housing standards, which nearly double the cage space allotment for hens and provide them with enough space to perch, nest and scratch with their talons. It also would restrict henhouse ammonia levels and require strict standards for euthanasia practices.
    Senate Bill 805, an Oregon law passed in June, had several similar requirements attached, but also differs in places with the proposed national standard.
    Under the national standard, egg farmers would be required to label all their egg cartons, informing consumers how the eggs were produced, such as labels stating "eggs from caged hens" or "eggs from cage-free hens." SB 805 does not include the labeling requirement.
    While Oregon SB 805 requires all egg operations to have 116.3 inches of space per hen by the year 2026, the national standard would require 124 per hen by 2029.
    "So a little bit more time, a little bit more space," Satrum said.
    "Essentially, all of the current cages go away, and along with that, a lot of new additional housing will have to be built," he said.
    So why does Willamette Egg Farms support such a costly piece of legislation?
    "We're convinced that it's the best thing to do to advance hen welfare while maintaining affordable eggs for consumers," Satrum said. "We think this is what our customers would want us to do."
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
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