Michigan Senate votes to delay cage-free ban for hens

Associated Press
This label indicates to consumers that the hens producing these eggs were in a cage free environment and fed grain.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A divided Michigan Senate on Oct. 24 passed an update of the state's animal industry law, including a proposed delay of a requirement that chickens and pigs be given more room in their cages and stalls.

Much of the seven-bill package won unanimous support, but senators split over giving farms more time to implement enclosure standards for egg-laying hens that take effect this month under a 2009 law. Farmers would not have to comply until October 2025 for hens and next April for pregnant pigs under one of the measures that was sent to the House for consideration.

Business owners could not knowingly sell an egg that came from a farm with 3,000 or more egg-laying hens if they knew or should have known that the egg was produced by a hen that was confined in violation of standards. The state could go to court to stop violators, though they would not face criminal penalties.

The vote fell largely along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate. Then-Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill in last year's lame-duck session.

Sen. Kevin Haley, a Republican from Lum in Lapeer County, said the main measure "synchronizes Michigan's hen-housing law to state and national retail and restaurant commitments of only buying eggs from 100% cage-free farms by 2025."

He said Michigan ranks sixth nationally in shell egg production.

"It's critical that we help our farmers meet the industry demands and remain competitive in retail markets," said Daley, the bill sponsor.

Sen. Ed McBroom, a Republican from Vulcan in the Upper Peninsula, voted against the legislation, saying it would raise the price of eggs and unconstitutionally restrict interstate commerce.

He accused a "monopoly" of seven large Michigan egg producers of securing loopholes so they would not have to meet standards when selling eggs that are no longer in the shells. Out-of-state farms should not also be forced spend more to produce cage-free eggs, he said.

"This is what you are posed with voting with on an otherwise good bill package," McBroom said. "The end of this bill, the last 10 pages or so, is the poison pill. It is the bad egg."

Democrats who opposed the legislation thought the delay until 2025 is too long and that the industry and animal-rights activists should be able to come to an agreement, according to a spokeswoman.

In June, a top Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development official told lawmakers that the primary purpose of the bills was to authorize the agency's director to issue emergency orders stopping the spread of animal diseases, streamline a law that has not seen a major update in nearly 20 years and bring more transparency to the roles and responsibilities of the state veterinarian.

The farm animal confinement rules were enacted in 2009 as part of a compromise in which the Humane Society of the United States agreed to no longer push a ballot initiative.

The Michigan Allied Poultry Industries said farmers are spending millions of dollars to transition to cage-free hen houses. About 8.5 million, or 56%, of hens currently live cage-free. An additional 1 million, or 6%, will be cage-free by the end of 2020, according to the group.

"This leadership between industry and advocacy is happening in Michigan and will make us the largest egg-producing state to mandate cage-free housing standards for egg-laying hens," said Allison Brink, the organization's executive director. "This positive step provides for the vitality of hens and Michigan's egg market."