Last week, the Humane Society of the United States got chummy with United Egg Producers and hammered out an agreement on proposed federal standards for hen housing. The onetime enemies will push for the standards together on the Hill. It's not quite lions and lambs laying down together, but it's pretty darn close. So what's going on?
The environmental website Grist smells a rat (my god, this post is becoming a regular Noah's ark), and not just because the standards will phase in over 18 years.
As the folks at Big Egg admit, complying with the existing (and increasingly diverse) patchwork of state regulations is annoying and expensive. The goal of the new proposed rules is preemption. The feds will have the final say on chicken conditions, and states or localities won't be able to up the ante. Thus the surprise defense of states' rights smack in the middle of an article about chicken cages:
We learn about what works by experimenting at the state level. That's why states are called laboratories of democracy. Are enriched cages the best method, or might cage-free be better? What about the food safety implications: Do enriched cages reduce risk of bacterial infection such as salmonella? (Remember last year's recall of half a billion eggs?) What about the potential economic impact on small and medium size farmers? These sorts of questions are often better answered at the local level before making national policy decisions. But now, that opportunity has been taken away, maybe forever.
In the end, though, Grist can't resist and winds up pitying the poor, defenseless Humane Society of the United States, writing that because of a "political system that is so heavily tilted in favor of economic interests that groups like HSUS are put in a position where they have to make such huge concessions to see change happen."