Big Egg Deal Gives America's Crowded Chickens More Space to Roam Big Egg Deal Gives America's Crowded Chickens More Space to Roam

A new agreement with egg farmers could usher in the first federal law addressing the treatment of farm animals. This is nothing to squawk at.

Good news for chickens: They may soon have their own federal protections.

On Thursday, the Humane Society of the United States reached an agreement with the United Egg Producers, which represents farmers raising hens that lay four in every five of the nation's eggs. As William Neuman reports, both sides plan to urge Congress to pass new standards for the treatment of the birds; the rules would be phased in over the next 18 years. If passed, it could be the first federal law addressing the treatment of farm animals.

So what would it mean for the nation's 270 million laying hens? They'd each get a little more space to roam around—up to 144 square inches apiece. To put that in perspective, roughly 97 percent of America's eggs are produced by hens in battery cages, which have 67 square inches of space per bird. "Cage-free" hens, which produce 2 percent of U.S. eggs, live in open indoor barns and have 120 inches each. To see what those figures mean in actual size, check out the full version of the above 2010 graphic from The New York Times shows (PDF).

A little extra space might sound like a little change, but the proposal represents a rare and welcome sign: An agricultural industry willingly accepting federal limits on the farm.

Photo (cc) from Flickr user Animal Freedom. Illustration via The New York Times, using data from the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States.


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