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What Factory Farmers Are Telling Congress — and Why We Should Thank Them for It

You might have guessed by now that The Beet-Eating Heeb does not hold the factory-farming industry in the highest of regard.

Cows at a typical factory farm.

But the vegan advocacy movement, of which BEH counts himself as a proud member, has a few reasons to thank our nation’s factory farmers.

Wait a second. Has The Beet-Eating Heeb lost his mind?

Perhaps. But look at it this way.

As if we can’t already make a compelling argument for a vegan diet on the basis of environmental, health, and religious reasons, the factory-farming industry treats animals with such callous cruelty that it offends the moral sensibilities of any moderately sensitive person who has bothered to educate himself or herself.

And our factory farmers have yet more to give to the vegan cause.

Case in point:

The Beet-Eating Heeb has obtained a copy of a letter that the titans of the factory-farming industry have recently sent to the ranking members of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. In the letter, eight of the nation’s largest factory-farming industry organizations urge Senators to reject a bill that would increase the size of cages for egg-laying hens and would impose labeling standards for egg cartons.

These are the eight industry organizations that signed the letter.

Readers of Beet-Eating Heeb (ROBEH) will recall that the egg bill was the subject of this blog’s Feb. 23 post.

As you will see as we examine the content of this letter, the industry’s arguments are so specious, so porous, and so weak, it’s relatively easy for vegan and animal-welfare advocates to claim the moral and intellectual high ground. So thank you, factory farmers.

In a twist to the Q&A format, The Beet-Eating Heeb will employ a C&A format. He’ll quote the industry’s Claims directly from the letter, and then Answer them, one at a time.

Here we go.

FACTORY FARMERS: Collectively, we applaud the work of this Congress to unshackle our economy from additional government regulation. This proposed legislative mandate runs in complete contrast to that objective by mandating hen housing measurements.

BEET-EATING HEEB: That loud, shrill sound you hear is the Hypocrisy Alarm that this letter set off.

Only last month, the factory-farming industry aggressively and successfully lobbied Iowa’s legislature and governor to impose a new regulation that outlaws undercover investigations at factory farms.

Needless to say, only an industry that has something to hide would launch such a legislative attack against journalists and animal-welfare organizations. But this also shows that the factory-farming industry has nothing against regulations, unless those regulations curtail their ability to commit animal brutality on a massive scale.

FACTORY FARMERS: The HSUS egg industry agreement would require replacement of 90 percent of egg housing currently used, forcing new capital investment nearing $10 billion, at a time when capital is scarce and added costs mean fewer jobs.

BEET-EATING HEEB: Thank you, factory farmers, for acknowledging that 90 percent of our nation’s egg-production facilities need to be retrofitted so that hens can at least turn around in their cages.

But The Beet-Eating Heeb thinketh that you protest too much, way too much, about the costs of these desperately needed changes. After all, it was United Egg Producers itself, the organization charged with promoting the profitability of egg producers, that agreed to the terms of the bill.

FACTORY FARMERS: The World Organization of Animal Health (OIE), the world’s international body for standards on animal health and welfare, has acknowledged that prescriptive standards such as those proposed, are not in the best interest of promoting true animal welfare because they cannot be adapted for different farming methods.

BEET-EATING HEEB: The factory farmers are obviously counting on the fact that the Senators who received this letter won’t take the time to contact the OIE.

But BEH did check with the OIE.

First of all, the OIE has not examined the bill in question, nor has it addressed the cage sizes for egg-laying hens, period. So to imply that OIE would oppose the egg bill is absurd.

It is true that the OIE itself does not issue “prescriptive standards.” But that’s because they want to give governments maximum flexibility when adopting OIE recommendations, according to OIE spokeswoman Maria Zampaglione. OIE does not oppose governmental establishment of minimal standards for the treatment of animals.

FACTORY FARMERS: This proposed federal mandate would also bring added consumer costs and limit choice … As an example, this agreement would wipe out the choice of conventional eggs chosen by more than 90 percent of consumers domestically.

BEET-EATING HEEB: C’mon, man. Does anyone believe for a nanosecond that 90 percent of Americans consciously choose to buy eggs from farmers who torture their hens in battery cages? Of course not. The factory-farming industry’s economic model is dependent on ill-informed consumers.

Wipe out choice? These trade organizations oppose the bill precisely because it would give consumers information about the source of their eggs.

The Beet-Eating Heeb could continue. But by now, you get the picture. If factory farmers were treating animals with a modicum of compassion, or if they were defending themselves with even remotely intelligent arguments, vegan advocates would face a real challenge.

So if you run into a factory farmer, thank him for all he has done to make the case for veganism.

The Food-Industry Story That Shocked The Beet-Eating Heeb — And Will Surprise You, Too

The Beet-Eating Heeb was driving (in his Prius) to his day job one recent morning when NPR aired a startling report that described such bizarre bedfellows … Well, BEH feels fortunate he didn’t drift off the road and into a ditch, he was so stunned.

What turned The Beet-Eating Heeb into a Head-Scratching Heeb, when he was supposed to have both hands on the wheel?

Are you sitting down?

Here goes: The Humane Society and United Egg Producers have joined forces to lobby together for a bill on Capitol Hill.

Just to put this in perspective, it’s akin to Planned Parenthood and the Vatican forming an alliance.

If you don’t find it shocking that the Humane Society and United Egg Producers are collaborating, it may be because egg producers don’t necessarily come first to mind when you’re thinking about the appalling practices of factory farming.

90% of America's egg-laying hens are crammed into tiny cages like these.

But they should.

The sordid truth is, when it comes to the sadistic treatment of animals, the egg industry ranks right down there with the cattle and poultry industries.

The Beet-Eating Heeb could devote an entire post, or even an entire book, to the horrors of industrial-scale egg production. Suffice it to say that, as NPR noted, the standard practice is to jam “chickens into long lines of wire cages, with hundreds of thousands of birds in a single chicken house.”

America’s 280 million egg-laying hens are typically allotted a mere 67 square inches of space each. That’s a smaller surface area than a sheet of 8.5×11 copy paper. In such cruel confinement, the hens can barely move.

Don’t get The Beet-Eating Heeb started.

Anyway, United Egg Producers, the main industry lobbying group, has long defended these horrific practices, while the Humane Society, last time BEH checked, advocates for the humane treatment of animals.

So why are Wayne Pacelle, a vegan and president of the Humane Society of the United States, and Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, strolling the halls of Congress together?

NPR reports that they’re jointly advocating for a bill that would allow egg farmers to keep their cages, but require them to provide twice as much space, plus perches and “nest boxes.” The new regulations would be phased in over 15-18 years.

Sixteen members of Congress have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, which has been sent to a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee.

Is the Humane Society Doing the Right Thing?

The Humane Society loves animals, so should we trust it that this compromise bill would significantly alleviate the suffering of egg-laying hens?

Animal-welfare organizations are deeply divided on that question.

Some are supporting the bill, while others are fiercely opposing it. The opposition within the animal-rights community has started a campaign called Stop the Rotten-Egg Bill.

Ed Duvin, editor-at-large of the Greanville Post blog, accuses the Humane Society of “settling for crumbs … at the expense of any hope for liberating hens from their heinous imprisonment.”

The Beet-Eating Heeb called fellow beet-eating Heeb Paul Shapiro for a response. Shapiro is the Humane Society senior director of farm animal protection.

He insists that their compromise with the egg producers offers the only realistic hope for hundreds of millions of hens.

“What is the alternative?” he asked.

Paul Shapiro

While California voters approved a ballot measure to improve conditions for egg-laying hens, the other big egg-producing states – Pennsylvania included – do not allow ballot initiatives, Shapiro pointed out. And most state legislatures – and Congress itself, for that matter – are firmly in the grip of the factory-farming industry.

Providing hens twice as much space, even if they would still be caged, is the best that can be achieved legislatively, he said.

“You can’t ignore the fact of what the status quo is. Hundreds of millions of hens are cramped in cages where they can’t even spread their wings,” he said.

Sadly, even the Humane Society-United Egg Producers compromise might not be realistic, in political terms.

The uber-powerful beef and pork industries have directed their armies of lobbyists to kill the egg bill. While cows and pigs don’t lay eggs, factory-farm lobbyists won’t tolerate any bill that regulates how animals are treated. From their perspective, United Egg Producers has gone off the ranch.

Business Week quoted a lobbyist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as saying, “It’s going to be a long time coming before we are willing to sit down with a group as extreme as the Humane Society of the United States.”

That quote speaks volumes about the mindset of the meat industry.

The Humane Society is extreme? Oh, please. Need The Beet-Eating Heeb even say this? The Humane Society is the most mainstream, most moderate, most respected animal welfare organization in the United States.

Nonetheless, despite the inanity of the beef and pork industries, they will in all likelihood succeed in killing the egg bill.

“This is an uphill battle,” Shapiro conceded.

The Beet-Eating Heeb is highly curious to know what the readers of this blog think, so please don’t hesitate to post your comments below.

One more thing: Don’t read this blog while driving.

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