As Election Day approaches in the Maryland, a candidate for Montgomery County Executive and one for Governor of Maryland join us for the Politics Hour.
Slowly but steadily, the Humane Society is turning adversaries into partners in its effort to make the food supply more humane. Just last week, the the group’s vegan director lobbied alongside the United Egg Producers and celebrated decisions made by McDonald’s. We examine the incremental steps that are helping meat eaters feel better about the animal products they consume.
- Wayne Pacelle President and Chief Executive Officer, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
- Chad Gregory Senior Vice President, United Egg Producers
- David Lathem Egg Farmer; Chairman, Board of Directors, United Egg Producers
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood to the world. When it comes to food safety and ethics strange bedfellows are getting together all across the American food system, but is it a chicken or the egg situation? Let's consider eggs for a minute because there's pending federal legislation to impose new national standards for the humane housing and care of egg-laying hens.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe proposal enjoys the support of both The Humane Society of the United States, a vocal group of animal welfare advocates and the United Egg Producers, a group representing egg farmers around the country, not exactly a couple likely to be put together by Match.com, but the new partnerships don't stop there. Just this week, the fast food giant McDonald's announced it was going to work with its pork suppliers to phase out gestation crates, the tiny stalls that groups like The Humane Society have long tried to move out of so-called factory farms.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore what's fueling these changes and how they're likely to impact our food system is Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle thank you for joining us.
MR. WAYNE PACELLEThanks Kojo.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we will talk with representatives of the egg farming sector. We start though with Wayne Pacelle. You were on the front lines of this debate and one of the biggest names in the food business made waves this week when it announced plans to make major changes in its supply-chain for pork, I mentioned it earlier. What exactly did McDonald's announce this week?
PACELLEWell, Kojo, as you indicated in your setup, McDonald's, which is the biggest restaurant chain in the world, has a lot of animal products flowing into its stores and selling to consumers. And obviously it's known for its hamburgers, which is a beef product, but its breakfast menu is dominated by pork products, sausage and bacon and ham. And we have been long concerned, as you also rightly indicated, at The Humane Society of the United States about the extreme confinement of breeding cells, and these small cages that are called gestation crates.
PACELLEThey're two foot by seven foot cages. Now if you think of a breeding cell these are animals that can weigh 3, 4, 500 pounds because they're not just, you know, babies, these are mature adults that are producing offspring so they have physical size to them. They're jammed into this cage where they can't turn around and they're side by side for maybe a football-length field and you can get thousands of these pigs in a single facility, all of whom are producing pigs that are then going to go to production facilities to grow into larger pigs to be slaughtered for food.
PACELLEBut this is one of the most acute abuses we've identified within the whole factory farming realm, this extreme confinement of breeding cells. So we had been talking to McDonald's for years, at times getting very frustrated by the pace of change, but then recently came to an agreement with McDonald's that it would end the use of gestation crates, essentially by cleansing its supply system of pork that comes from these gestation crate-based facilities.
PACELLEThey're doing some analytics over the next three months and we'll make an announcement in May about the timetable, but it's an historic announcement because when McDonald's, which is such a big consumer of pork products, that is also producing inexpensive food for the American public, makes this commitment, you know that that's really the leading edge of a movement and that other retailers, whether it's fast food or supermarkets, are going to have to stand up and take note.
NNAMDIFast foods and supermarkets, yes, but how exactly do these policies originating out of a place like McDonald's, move down the supply chain to farmers at places like Smithfield or Cargill?
PACELLEWell, this is something that's going on. This movement against the small confinement crates for the breeding cells is playing out on a lot of levels. We at The Humane Society of the United States have done three statewide ballot measures where we've banned this practice in the States, Arizona, Florida and California. We've also worked in a half dozen State legislatures to get similar rules approved with a phase-in period for the new methods and to allow the farmers to phase out their use of these crates.
PACELLEThere have been a lot of other companies like Wolfgang Puck, they decided they were not going to buy pork from these producers. Even Burger King a couple of years ago made an announcement that it would start taking some of its pork from suppliers that don't rely on these gestation crates. So McDonald's announcement doesn't come out of nowhere. There's a brewing, sort of movement that's going on in this country driven by HSUS and other animal welfare advocates to get more accountability in policy-making circles, in the food retail sector and in the production sector.
PACELLEAnd Kojo in December of 2011, just a couple of months ago Smithfield Food re-committed to its original promise that it made to The Humane Society that it would phase out these confinement crates by 2017 and then Hormel, just about two weeks ago made a similar announcement.
NNAMDIHow long have large-scale farmers made putting these gestation crates to use?
PACELLEWell, of course, animals have been domesticated and raised for food for centuries and centuries, for thousands of years, but really we identify 1960 as kind of a pivot point when agriculture began a real move toward industrialization and for some animals like laying hens, like breeding sows, like turkeys, they were moved from outdoor settings where the animals could move around, walk around, be among others of their kind, exhibit normal, natural behaviors they were moved into warehouses. And then sometimes within those warehouses they were confined in cages and crates barely larger than the animals' bodies.
PACELLEAnd over these last 50 years the confinement systems in our view have become more harsh, more restrictive and that's where we've seen a major debate emerging in our society as groups like HSUS have gotten stronger and other animal welfare groups have emerged to advance this critique. These systems have become more harsh and restrictive and that's been the collision point as the American public is connecting to its food sources.
PACELLEYou know, most people don't go on farms. Most people don't see what's going on, but when we do an undercover investigation or we begin to tell the story of what's happening on these farms, people say, hey, I thought the animals were well treated. I eat meat. I'm committed to doing that, but I don't want to see the animals in these conditions where they can't even move, where they're immobilized and that has been the emerging debate. And as I indicated, we've been pushing this with ballot measures and consumer campaigns and corporate campaigns and we're now starting to see the fruits of this movement and some of the big changes we're talking about.
NNAMDIWayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. He joins us in studio to talk about pending federal legislation to impose new national standards for the humane housing and care of egg-laying hens. If you'd like to join this conversation you can call us at 800-433-8850. How much attention do you pay to where your food comes from and would you be willing to pay more money for eggs or for pork that you knew were being raised in a humane way? 800-433-8850 you can also go to our website kojoshow.org Send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow if you'd like to join the conversation.
NNAMDIWayne Pacelle what enforcement or accountability mechanisms are in place here? It's my understanding that Smithfield has made promises about gestation crates before only to face scrutiny from an undercover video investigation by your organization later.
PACELLEWell, right, in 2007 after HSUS and other animal welfare and environment groups conducted a ballot measure in Arizona to ban these confinement crates, Smithfield, just two months later, said, okay, we're going to phase out these crates within ten years. We applauded the announcement. A couple of years later, Smithfield said, hey, we're actually not going to necessarily meet this 2017 deadline. We're going to, in a sense, renege on our original promise.
PACELLEAnd it was that reneging on its promise that resulted in our talking to the company, getting exasperated by the company's inaction on this issue and then kind of re-launching a campaign. And after we did that, then we resumed discussions in a productive way with Smithfield and then in December, it recommitted so this is something where we've got to hold this company accountable and the company's got to abide by the promises that it has made to its customers and to the consumers. And I think that Smithfield is going to honor this pledge.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, do you have any concerns about where the egg-laying hens or the pigs you get your food from are or how they are treated? 800-433-8850 what are your concerns or, do you think that it's really none of your business? 800-433-8850. We will put the same question to the egg farmers joining us later in the hour, Wayne, but what do you think ultimately gives large-scale farmers incentive to change? Is it the political pressure or is it consumer pressure?
PACELLEWell, I think what happened with these large industrial farms is that we began to apply new technologies and some of the latest science in production and productivity and it became kind of a race to have greater efficiencies and what happened is along the way some of the other values that we care about such as animal welfare, environment, public health were squeezed out and these factory farms in so many ways are incredible models of efficiency. I mean they're producing enormous yields of meat, enormous yields of milk, of eggs and in one sense it's a great success story because it is an example of human innovation put to the task of production.
PACELLEBut of course, we, as a society, don't just value production at the expense of our other values and if the animals are so severely confined that they can't turn around, they can't exhibit normal behaviors, that they have bone density loss because they can't move, their muscles atrophy. They have abrasions because they're rubbing against the bars of their crates. They're in such a terrible circumstance and living environment that they're so unhappy all the time. They're psychologically unhappy.
PACELLEThese are not good outcomes, from an animal welfare perspective and I think what's happening now is we're now seeing some greater balance injected into the system as a consequence of groups like The Humane Society of the United States and others that are saying hey, you know, production and productivity matters, but so does animal welfare.
PACELLEAnd what we're doing is we're connecting consumers and I think what's happened is these factory farms have gotten so far away from what the public thinks of as the norms of legitimate animal agriculture that when the public sees these sows in these tiny crates, or they see laying hens in these small wire battery cages, they say, hey, this doesn't look right. This doesn't feel right to me.
PACELLEI don't want to participate in a food production system that treats the animals like commodities and now what we're starting to see because of the pressure that we've applied is McDonald's and other major retailers saying, okay, we're going to make changes in our supply chain. And now in the case of the United Egg Producers, the trade association for the egg industry, they're saying, hey we can see a better pathway forward too. And now we're saying at HSUS, hey, we're a practical organization. We're going to embrace incremental change. And we're going to take these gains because these animals are suffering right now, and let's give them a better shake in life.
NNAMDIIs that what you're saying? Let us know, 800-433-8850. Or, to put it crudely, are you saying why should I care? These animals are ultimately going to be slaughtered anyway, 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Wayne, where does legislative strategy come in on your end? You've talked a little bit about some of the stuff that you've been doing. And to what degree are you concerned about having different standards in different states?
PACELLEWell, a lot of the different trade associations, whether it's the National Pork Producers Council, the United Egg Producers, the other associations that represent different sectors of animal agriculture, have some of their own standards. But these are voluntary standards. And some of the producers can choose to participate and others, you know, can opt out. And they may not even begin in the system in the first place.
PACELLESo we believe that there must be a minimum set of standards. You've got to have people playing by a set of rules. Otherwise if you have some people who are responsible and lots of folks who are irresponsible cutting corners all the time you're going to subvert animal welfare and you're going to punish the producers who are trying to do it in a better way. So that's where legislation comes in, at the state level, the federal level, in effort to have a level playing field so all of the producers have to abide by the same rules in terms of animal care principles.
PACELLEAnd we've typically done this at the state level with ballot measures and state legislation on confinement of veal calves in their small crates, the breeding sows in their crates and also with the laying hens in the battery cages. But there're also, Kojo, precedence at the federal level. In 1958 the congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to stipulate that cows -- that cattle and pigs and other mammals had to be rendered insensible to pain prior to being killed. So they're stunned typically before their throats are cut.
PACELLEUnfortunately, that law excludes poultry. And since the 1950,s our poultry consumption, the consumption of chickens and turkeys, has gone up so dramatically that now 95 percent of all of the animals used in agriculture are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. But the point is we already have gone down this road. We have federal standards with respect to the care of certain farm animals. We're just wanting to say that they should be cared for properly at every stage of their lives. Not just the final moments of slaughter, but during transport and production as well.
NNAMDIHere is Leda in Great Falls, Va. Leda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEDAYes, thank you for this show. I think this is very interesting. And a comment that I have is I think these animals, they produce stress hormones when they are in the un-humane environment when we're not caring for them, when they're in cages and they can't, you know, get the sunlight or be free. And I believe when we eat the product, whether it's milk or egg or meat, we're actually not doing good to ourselves. It cannot be healthy for us.
LEDASo if we like to eat animal products, we need to care for them and make sure they're free and they enjoy life just like us -- just like we do and in order to enjoy their products and feel like it's healthy for us. But unfortunately, it's hard to find those products. So I have made a decision a year ago, I became vegetarian. I do eat eggs and milk, but I make sure that it is a free-range chicken -- hen.
NNAMDIWayne Pacelle, there are a lot of people who confronted with the way these animals are either treated or slaughtered have, like Leda, decided not to eat animal flesh at all, even thought she points out they still eat some -- they still consume some animal products. But she also seems to be making a suggestion that it's not just a safety issue in terms of the food that we eat. It's also a psychological issue. We're eating stressed out animals and in a lot of ways we -- that kind of stress is passed on to us ourselves.
PACELLEWell, I think Leda represents a growing number of consumers in holding that view. And I think, Kojo, there are other issues of food safety. I mean, there are hormones that are injected into...
NNAMDIShe did mention that.
PACELLE...into animals. And frankly with some sectors of agriculture, like the pig industry, we're lacing their feed and water with antibiotics, the same classes of antibiotics that we use to treat illness in our own human communities. And what's happening is antibiotic-resistant bacteria are developing, which can then render our antibiotics useful -- useless. So there are all sorts of public health questions that have been raised. And I think that this is part of the very big robust debate that's happening.
PACELLEThis is why it's so exciting to see companies like McDonald's and Wolfgang Puck and others starting to embrace these reforms to be accountable to their consumers. And why groups like the United Egg Producers are saying, hey we realize that our past conduct has raised questions. We're willing to move forward and adopt the better practices. And that's the way that agriculture must move in order to survive in a nation where consumers are connecting to their food on the animal welfare environment, personal health and public health grounds.
NNAMDII'd like to pursue the psychological issue for a second with Andrew in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Just wanted to ask, it sounds like you just touched on it, what is the relationship between the psychological and even emotional health of an animal? And then how does that relate to food safety? And more importantly, what do companies have to do to counteract some of those things? I know you just talked about hormones and things like that. Kind of a secondary thing, what kind of research is being done to look into the psychological effects of food safety?
PACELLEWell, the dominant issues that relate to food safety have related to, you know, pathogens like salmonella and other food borne illnesses that frankly infect millions of people every year. So there are real food safety issues and we've had a number of major food scares in this country, a lot of them related to the consumption of animal products but some to other products in the food supply.
PACELLEIn terms of this kind of psychology of the animals and the animals feeling fear, there hasn't been as much on that as some of these other issues, like the overuse of antibiotics for non therapeutic reasons, some of these food borne illnesses like salmonella poisoning that do afflict millions of people a year. But I think this is an area where more and more people are asking this question. And you'll see growing research.
PACELLEA lot of the research that is done by the land grant colleges in this country is very associated with the meat industry. And they may not have a great interest in exploring some of these questions because of this close association between government in the form of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state departments of agriculture, the trade associations like the pork producers and others, and academia.
PACELLEYou know, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production talked about an agro industrial complex, kind of like the military industrial complex where the research kind of reinforces the dominant thinking of the industry. And we're getting this sort of research that is reinforcing it all.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Andrew. Wayne Pacelle is President and CEO of the Human Society of the United States. We're going to take a short break. When we come back you'll be hearing from egg farmers and the people who represent them on the frontlines of this debate. If you have called, stay on the line. If not, the line -- the number is 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about our food system and pending legislation that would impose new national standards for the humane housing and care of egg-laying hens. Still with us in studio is Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Before I move on, Wayne, when it comes to issues related to our food supply what's your next target? Are there other major players like McDonald's who you're talking to who you feel are on the verge of changing how they do business?
PACELLEWell, I think we're having a good conversation with Burger King. And we hope to open up a conversation with Wendy's to get them, as a company, to move in this direction as well. And then I think we've really got to talk to the supermarket sector. I mean, Walmart is the big player in this sector, the biggest seller of food in this country. And it hasn't really been big on animal welfare as part of its broader corporate social responsibility mission, and we've got to get it there.
PACELLESo that's certainly part of our agenda. But, Kojo, we've got to pass this legislation in congress HR3798, which is this bill that is jointly supported by the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers, which is the trade association for egg producers in this country. And just a few days ago the American Veterinary Medical Association endorsed it as well. So it's got incredible diverse support and we've got to get that passed in the congress.
NNAMDIWe've got a part of that diverse support lined up to join the conversation right now. Chad Gregory is Senior Vice-President at the United Egg Producers. That's an organization representing egg farmers in the United States. He joins us by phone. Chad Gregory, thank you for joining us. I can't hear Chad but I am assuming he's there. David Lathem is an egg farmer and the owner of L & R Farms in Pendergrass, Ga. He's also the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the United Egg Producers. David Lathem, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID LATHEMGlad to be here. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIChad Gregory, are you there?
MR. CHAD GREGORYI sure am, yes. Thanks, Kojo.
NNAMDII'll start with you then, Chad. The United Egg Producers and the Humane Society admitted in a recent ad that they're long time adversaries, yet here you are supporting federal legislation that would impose standards on the animals at egg farms. Why do you support it and what prompted the change?
GREGORYYeah, Kojo, it is hard to believe when you just sit there and think about the two organizations and the fact that we were polar opposites for ten years. Sadly, Kojo, we spent ten years, you know, fighting each other and each raising money to fight each other, whether it was through legislation or ballot initiatives or other venues.
GREGORYAnd, you know, ultimately the egg industry, egg farmers like David Lathem and our board of directors of United Egg Producers, they realized it was time to have a conversation with the Human Society of the United States and just see if there's a way that the two organizations could come to some sort of an agreement that the two sides could live with and that consumers could live with, retailers could live with, everyone could benefit from. And that's what started last March with a conversation between Wayne and I, eventually led to an agreement and a press conference last July.
GREGORYAnd then, since then, of course, as Wayne has said, you know, working on writing this legislation and ultimately trying to pass this legislation sometime early part of this year.
NNAMDIChad, it's my understanding that this bill would require labels on egg cartons noting whether the eggs came from caged, cage-free, or free-range hens. What would be the differences in those three categories? How is cage-free different from free-range, for example?
GREGORYYeah, Kojo. The great question. So the labeling part of the agreement and the legislation is critically important. Consumers of course want to know what they're purchasing at the grocery stores and certainly egg farmers in the United States don't want to do anything to mislead the consumers. We've always been for consumer choices, so with this legislation there will be four different categories. One will be eggs from caged hens, and then the new category of course will be eggs from enriched colony cages, and then of course cage-free as well as free-range.
GREGORYThe difference between cage-free and free-range, a lot of times, Kojo, just represents or means that the birds in free-range systems have access to the outdoors.
NNAMDIDavid Lathem, what are the living conditions like for hens at your farm?
LATHEMWell, of course, we found the UEP certified program, and we've been developing that program for over 12 years, and I think it's a tremendously good program, and I think it's been very aggressive and proactive in improving the standard of welfare in hens, and I think it's very good. But I do think, Kojo, one of the big things is we have to give credit to Wayne Pacelle and HSUS, and I think to the members of UEP that we -- they went and looked at enriched colony cage, and they liked the welfare benefits, and they felt good about it, and I think producers looked at it and said, you know, this is something we can live with and move our industry forward, and I think we just both got our heads together, and I think it is an improvement.
LATHEMBut certainly chickens in our cages compared to when I started 35 years ago when they were on floors with drinkers running over and ammonia in the house, and I used to wear rubber boots to get in the house when I serviced chickens years ago. And they're tremendously better than what they used to be, but I agree this will make them even better and, you know, I think producers feel real good about that.
NNAMDIWell, this next question is for all three of you, but I'll start with you first, Chad Gregory. I came across a recent op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by one Larry Liepold, a hog farmer in Minnesota. He basically said that he doesn't have a problem with egg farmers making an agreement with the Humane Society about hen housing. His problem he says, major problem, is with the precedent that this legislation was set for other kinds of farmers because this is an example of quoting here, "the government dictating to livestock farmers how they can operate." Chad Gregory, first you, how would you respond?
GREGORYYeah, Kojo. This is kind of the basics of where we're at right now with this legislation. Sadly, and disappointingly, the U.S. Pork Industry, the U.S. Beef Industry, and a few other active organizations in agriculture are opposing this legislation, and it's really disappointing and it's really sad, Kojo, because this is what we plan on doing. What we are doing is amending the egg products inspection act which has been around, Kojo, for 40 years. And no one has opposed the Egg Products Inspection Act in the last 40 years.
GREGORYWe are amending that so that it mirrors the agreement that we have made with HSUS, which would be transitioning to enriched colony cages over the next 15 to 18 years, and unfortunately the pork and beef industry are opposed to that, saying that it sets precedent. It doesn't in a variety of reasons. Two of the main ones are of course, it is an amended Egg Products Inspection Act which means 100 percent deals with the egg industry.
GREGORYIt is what egg farmers want. It is what egg farmers need. It has nothing to do with pork, beef, dairy, turkeys, or broiler chickens. It is an egg products bill, and by the fact United Egg Producers and the egg industry is supporting this, it is a joint effort between us and the Humane Society of the United States. You know, that in itself says that, you know, this is something that we can work on. This is something we want, and this is something we need. If the Humane Society was going to introduce for instance anti-gestation crate legislation in Washington D.C., and the National Pork Producers Council did not support that like we are our own bill here, then there's no way that piece of legislation would pass with the pork industry opposing it.
GREGORYIn this case, the egg industry is jointly supporting this, jointly working on it with the Humane Society, and so I think their fear -- pork industry and beef industry's fear that this set the precedent just is not actually the case. United...
NNAMDIWell, Wayne Pacelle, I'd like to talk a little bit more about what the cause of the fear is, because Liepold also writes that German cage regulations have reduced production by 20 percent. To what degree have you studied regulations in other countries, and what lessons have you taken from them?
PACELLEWell, I think, as I think David or Chad mentioned, I can't remember which one, the Europeans in 1999 passed the regulation that applies throughout the European Union which, of course has expanded since 1999, so now applies to27 countries to phase in these new cages that are larger than the current conventional cages which we call battery cages, and that also have enrichments for the birds. Rather than being, you know, bored and not able to engage in their natural and normal behaviors, these enriched cages allow the birds to perch, to lay their eggs in a nest box, and to have a scratch pad so they can engage, as I said, in behaviors that chickens want to engage in.
PACELLESo Europe has been leading, and I think that, you know, a number of egg producers in the U.S. have seen these systems, and they've seen that the welfare of the birds has improved. Now, is it perfect from an animal welfare advocate's perspective? No, it's not perfect, but as David Lathem said, it's an improvement, and there have been improvements along the line in agriculture all along. The idea that the pork producers are advancing that we should just have stasis or we should have no standards at all is really I think a very retrograde position.
PACELLEAnd, you know, it was in 1873, Kojo, that the first federal farm animal welfare law was passed, a 28-hour law that stipulated that animals in transport had to be offloaded every 28 hours. Now, they could have said at that point, well, we shouldn't have a federal law. And then in the 1950s we had the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act which imposed federal standards on slaughter. Well, they at that time said well, we shouldn't have federal standards for slaughter.
PACELLEI mean, they've opposed any advance some of these organizations at every stage of the process, and I really credit the UEP for saying, okay, we need to adapt to what consumers want. We need to adapt to the emerging science on this issue, and we need to forge some agreements that are going to be sustainable, not just as a matter of animal welfare, but frankly from their very self-interested perspective for the benefit of farmers. And it's amazing to me to see the cattle industry and the pork industry subverting an agriculture sector, and the pork industry, just one -- last month, there was a court decision, Supreme Court decision that the slaughterhouse industries and the pork producers brought to nullify a state law dealing with downer cattle and pigs.
PACELLEThese are animals too sick or injured to walk. And the pork industry said, we shouldn't have state laws because the Federal Meat Inspection Act subverts or preempts those state laws. So the pork industry is saying we should only have federal laws because they didn't like the state law. Now they're saying to the egg industry, we shouldn't have any federal laws. It's so hypocritical, Kojo, that it's kind of mindboggling.
NNAMDIDavid Lathem, you're the farmer here. I'd like to ask you about a couple of things. How do you feel, or is there any indication that this agreement will cause your production to go down as Larry Liepold has been arguing, that your production can be reduced by about 20 percent, and do you also feel that his argument about this being an example of the government dictating to you how you can and cannot do business is fair?
LATHEMWell, let me answer the second question first...
LATHEM...and I think it's beyond question. I think our people in Congress want to look after consumers. I certainly think they want to look after farmers, and I do strongly feel like that if HSUS and Wayne Pacelle, they have stepped up to the plate and UEP has. We're going there jointly. I do not believe that Congress would entertain setting standards at all if our industry wasn't there in support. So I do think the other farming sectors are really -- need to grasp that stronger, and I feel like that's what's so important about our legislation is it is supported by everyone involved.
LATHEMSo I think they need to take that in consideration. I don't think the legislation would go anywhere without that. So I think that's the number one thing. The other thing as far as production, and I certainly don't see any decrease in production at all, in fact I would say if anything we may get a little better production. I think the numbers won't change a lot. We have hens that do a good job in the systems we have now, and I think they'll continue to do that, and I a hundred percent do not think there will be anything negative at all as far as production.
LATHEMA hundred percent don't believe that. Reject that.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. I will go with Chubba (sp?) in Falls Church, Va. Chubba, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHUBBAYes. Thank you very much. I'm going back to an earlier topic which had to do with the humane slaughter of animals, and I think...
CHUBBA...they were talking about cattle and swine, et cetera. I had heard on some program -- so my question really is, is this is federal law which is universally -- is it enforced by the federal government regardless of exemptions, and I'm thinking specifically of religious exemptions. On a program later, it may have been your program some time ago, a veterinarian claimed that the kosher laws affecting the slaughter of animals are incredibly cruel because they forbid the stunning -- or the animal has to be conscious, fully conscious, at the time they cut its throat.
CHUBBAI don't know if halal works the same or -- and I'm just wondering if your guest has any knowledge of does -- do these regulations about humane slaughter mean mainly, for example, that they need to be unconscious at the time that their throats are cut?
CHUBBADoes that apply -- is that applicable or are there exemptions for religious practices?
PACELLEThere are exemptions for certain religious practices that you mention, and there's also a gaping gap in the law in that birds raised for meat are not covered under this statute. So it's far from ideal and it's something that we and others have been looking at very closely.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Chubba. Chad Gregory, there's also an argument about tighter regulations and how they would affect costs on the supply chain. We've heard David Lathem say it won't cause his production to go down, but there are those who feel that these costs would ultimately be passed along to consumers in the prices we pay at the supermarket. How do you feel about the argument that we are looking at a choice between more expensive food and safer food?
GREGORYYeah, Kojo. Another great question. You know, we saw what was happening in Europe. When I say we, United Egg Producers and the U.S. Egg Industry. We closely watched what has happened over the last 15 years in Europe. We saw that the industry and the consumers over there were going from conventional caged egg production to cage-free egg production. We know from our own experiences the differences in costs between caged eggs, the cage-free eggs for the consumers is incredibly different.
GREGORYI mean, in some cases, it's almost double. The amount of land that's needed for cage-free, the amount of capital that's needed for cage-free to produce enough eggs for 300 million consumers that want to eat eggs, you know, all the time. So we knew that going to enriched colony cages was going to be a lot better system, not only for egg farmers, but also for consumers as well from a cost standpoint. We knew that going all across the country to cage-free environments was not a sustainable system for U.S. egg farmers and therefore consumers buying eggs that were produced in the United States.
GREGORYSo yes, the cost may go up marginally, but like David said, because the production in these systems will be somewhat comparable, we don't think that the cost will go up significantly enough to where consumers will back off of purchasing eggs, and keep in mind, you know, these costs will be phased in over the next 15 to 18 years. It's not like tomorrow if this thing passes today, it's not like the consumers will go into tomorrow and, you know, the cost will be ten cents more per dozen. This is a cost that will be phased in over the next 15 to 18 years.
PACELLEYes. Well, you know, this has been a big point of contention through the years as, you know, Chad indicated that HSUS and the UEP were fighting for a long time. We had a big battle in California over Proposition 2, an initiative that we felt meant cage-free production, and we have advocated for cage-free, and we were, you know, critical of these caged confinement methods. But just like UEP had kind of a practical concern that the movement of more and more states in terms of regulations was going to make it difficult for farmers to play by the rules of all these different states, we realized that a lot of the states didn't have the initiative process, especially a lot of big egg-producing states.
PACELLESo we felt that this is an improvement, you know, not our optimum, not our ideal. We have always favored cage-free as a production strategy, and there are a lot of different types of cage-free production systems. But we said, here is a measureable advance, to have the birds in double the space, to have these enrichments, and that is the -- through this federal legislation, is the only way we're gonna get there, because the producers are not going to invest in these new systems if they're competitors within the egg industry are going to be able to cut corners.
PACELLESo this is why the federal legislation is so critical and why we're urging your listeners, Kojo, to contact your U.S. senators and your U.S. representative in support of HR3798 to improve the lives of these hens. It's good for animal welfare, and as Chad and David have said, they believe it's better for the egg industry.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Wayne Pacelle, thank you for joining us.
PACELLEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIChad Gregory is senior vice president at the United Egg Producers which represents egg farmers in the United States. Chad Gregory, thank you for joining us.
GREGORYThanks, Kojo. I really appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation.
NNAMDIThank you. And David Lathem is an egg farmer, and the owner of L & R Farms in Pendergrass, Ga. He's also chairman of the board of directors of the United Egg Producers. David Lathem, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
LATHEMOkay. Appreciate it, Kojo. Glad to be a part of it.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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