ST. GEORGE — Gov. Spencer Cox signed Wednesday the Confinement of Egg-Laying Hens bill, making Utah the eighth state to shift to a cage-free egg production environment.
The bill, designated SB 147 in the 2021 Utah legislature, will prohibit farm owners and operators from confining egg-laying hens in a small enclosure and will require farms to meet the food industry’s guidelines. The bill requires all egg-producing farms in Utah to be cage-free by 2025.
The bill passed in the House on March 4, with 63 votes in favor, seven against and five not voting. It then passed in the Senate on March 5, with 25 in favor, zero against and four not voting. The bill was substituted four times before it passed. Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, sponsored the bill and told the Senate on Feb. 16 that the bill was changed due to questions from animal advocates and the food industry about the language. He added that there are five egg-production companies in Utah and the industry is moving rapidly toward cage-free production.
“Four of them are family-owned businesses,” he said. “Obviously you can imagine that there’s a lot of hands in each of those facilities. One is in Delta and they have already transferred into a cage-free environment and are supplying eggs into the West Coast market where they are currently requiring cage-free eggs in California, Oregon and Washington.”
Josh Balk, vice president of the Farm Animal Protection campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, told St. George News that the legislation is groundbreaking not only because it reflects a major shift in the food and agriculture industries, but also because lawmakers, the agricultural community and humane advocates worked together to pass it.
“This legislation is a tremendous advancement for animal welfare and it really shows what can get done when legislators, the agricultural community and humane advocates work together,” he said. “It reflects how our country is headed when it comes to this issue, and it also reflects that this should be and has become a non-partisan issue that this legislation passed virtually unanimously in the Senate and the House.”
In the past few years, multiple states have made major shifts in the way they produce eggs, Balk said. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a decade ago, less than 10% of the egg industry produced cage-free eggs. Today, 28.5% of the industry collects eggs from cage-free hens. Balk said that the rapid pace of this change shows how the egg industry is recognizing that the future is cage-free and it is taking unprecedented steps to change the industry and improve the lives of hens.
“A staple of most Americans’ diet is completely being changed and it’s being done in a collaborative way,” Balk said. “Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or a meat-eater, we can all agree that chickens shouldn’t be confined in cages.”
He added that a cage-free environment is better for the animals and for the farmers. A cage-free enclosure allows chickens to engage in critical natural behaviors such as flapping their wings, scratching, perching and laying their eggs in a nest off the ground. Shifting to cage-free production takes time and money for new equipment, but the investment will fuel the economies of rural communities, Balk said.
“Good things happen when those in agriculture work with humane organizations,” Balk said. “We find common ground, we advance on an issue together in a way that wins for both animals and farmers alike.”
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