The April 17th editorial “Egg Lawsuit Wrong for Alabama” by Michael Makarian with the Humane Society Legislative Fund continues the rhetoric from his group that is misleading to the readers of the Montgomery Advertiser. Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange is to be commended for joining the initiative behind Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster’s lawsuit against the California egg law. California is assuming the role of determining the commerce of eggs which is a violation of the U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 granting the U.S. Congress the power to regulate commerce between the States. California Title 3 Section 1350 of the CA Code of Regulations requires out-of-state egg farmers selling eggs in California to implement that state’s food safety regulations including Salmonella reduction. This appears to be a good idea to Mr. Markarian, but it already goes beyond the federal regulations under FDA’s food safety standards for eggs (Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 118 [21 CFR Part 118], “Production, Storage, and Transportation of Shell Eggs”.
Mr. Markarian’s claims that consumers are buying substandard eggs when egg farmers are not abiding by California’s law is untrue. Dr. R.K. Gast at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southeast Regional Laboratory in Athens, GA along with 3 other scientists recently published their findings that there is no significant differences (P > 0.05) in the frequency of egg contamination by Salmonella in chickens housed in conventional cages as compared to enriched cages, the ones promoted by California in their regulation. (Poultry Science 2014 Mar;93(3):728-33. doi: 10.3382/ps.2013-03641).
Mr. Markarian’s suggestion to support one national federal standard in HR 1731 and S820 would actually have led to the smaller egg farmers throughout the country including Alabama actually going out of business. Whereas the larger egg complexes could gradually make the transition Mr. Markarian suggested, the smaller egg farmers would not be able to because of the egg processing capabilities on those smaller farms. Those smaller egg farmers would be forced to make the conversion in one step leading to an economic disadvantage leading to insolvency for them. The Humane Society of the U.S. claimed better welfare with their enriched cages in H.R. 1731 and S. 820, however consider the facts. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2010 released a report on the welfare implications of various kinds of housing. (www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/cage_noncage_systems.asp) The report concluded consumers need to balance the hen’s freedom against exposure to potential hazards such as disease vectors and the cannibalism caused by pecking.Certainly cannibalism and pecking are welfare issues, and in conventional cages where the number of chickens is minimized, these concerns are also reduced compared to other systems.
Dr. Kenneth Anderson, NC State University, presented his research findings to delegates at the 2010 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention March 16-18, 2010 where he noted that chickens reared in conventional cages (310 sq. cm/bird) had significantly greater numbers of Grade A eggs, significantly greater numbers of total eggs produced, and significantly better feed conversion rates (meaning a lower carbon footprint), and a better immune response (meaning better able to resist disease). Certainly these are indicators of a healthier chicken and thus better welfare.
Agriculture is the leading industry in Alabama providing jobs and food for the nation’s consumers. For these reasons, the people in Alabama should send their compliments to their Attorney General for his courage in supporting the Missouri AG’s lawsuit against the misguided effort by California and the misinformation by the Humane Society Legislative Fund.