29 February 2012

The Politics of Eggs

Over the past several weeks npr has run two stories - here and here - on the politics of eggs (not human embryos which is too common a topic in politics, but chicken eggs). More specifically, these are stories on the coalition of the Humane Society and the industry group United Egg Producers, lobbying on the same side for Federal legislation that would mandate markedly improved conditions for the raising of chickens. It reminded me of the sort of oddly unexpected coalitions that Rebecca Solnit celebrates in her Hope in the Dark. And while Solnit is concerned more with popular movements, I doubt she'd complain about this DC centric beyond thinking, perhaps, that it doesn't go far enough. She'd surely acknowledge that small steps and indirect consequences, though, open possibilities. Today, I came across this Op-Ed by philosopher Peter Singer noting the implementation of similar standards in the EU. Yes, the Europeans are ahead of us on this too. And the image of Singer and his classmates leafleting all those years ago seemed to seal the case.

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Blogger Ben F. said...

This bill represents not a step forward, but a troubling step backward for animal welfare. This outrageous legislation would establish egg factory CAGES as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote. It would essentially outlaw the banning of cages, which is why it is being pushed by the egg industry itself! The Stop the Rotten Egg Bill (http://www.StopTheRottenEggBill.org) campaign is getting it right. Check it out. This bill would stop cage-free laws dead in their tracks and keep hens locked in cruel metal cages forever.

01 March, 2012 13:34  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I am not sure about the idea that this bill will preclude any further reform. I don't know the details of the legislative language. Generally, though, no piece of legislation is written in stone.

It appears that this proposal would bring standardized production to the US industry in about the same amount of time that it happened in the EU. A state by state campaign would likely take close to that length of time I suspect. (Citing California as an example of potential constituencies is mis-leading; CA is not Wyoming or Arkansas - much different demographics and sensibilities.)

The bill sets a precedent (if enacted) for federal intervention in food production more broadly (hence the opposition to the bill from various other large scale producers). And it does implement regulation in states that would otherwise be very unlikely to do so themselves.

So, I agree that it is a small step, it is a step. I buy local cage free eggs myself. But a couple of things come to mind. First, cage free does not = free range, and why should we not aim for laws mandating the latter? It also is the case that lots of people cannot afford to go to the coop and pay the additional increment for PC eggs (however defined). So I see this bill as a way to inch toward decency with an eye to cost.

Not inspiring, I know, but an improvement.

01 March, 2012 14:03  

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