AVMA Board Supports Enriched Hen-Housing Legislation

Some people believe that neutrality in times of conflict and controversy can be a good thing. There are others who feel that assuming a position of neutrality exposes weakness, and that we must always take a side if we are going to make a difference. When the members of the AVMA Executive Board had to decide whether the association would support the controversial Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, also known as HR 3798, they had the choice of staying neutral on federal legislation that would require enriched housing for laying hens. 

They chose to take action instead. 

Because of our primary concern about hen welfare, the Executive Board decided to support the legislation. The decision was not made lightly. There was extensive deliberation, and the board reasoned that the standards are consistent with AVMA policy, as well as industry long-term expectations about changes in egg-production practices. 

The Executive Board knew full well that many would be quite upset with us for supporting this legislation, especially the groups that believe this could be the first step toward federal animal welfare oversight of other production farm animals while still on the farm, a heretofore off-limits area. These fears are real, and members of the AVMA Executive Board – knowing that their actions would have ramifications regardless of which decision was made – respect and understand these concerns and the overall complexity of the issues associated with farm animal production and welfare. To that end, the AVMA will work to ensure that, if passed, implementation of the legislation results in the expected animal-welfare improvements, is reasonable, and minimizes any adverse impacts on producers, associated industries and consumers.

12 thoughts on “AVMA Board Supports Enriched Hen-Housing Legislation

  1. I applaud the AVMA Executive Board for taking this positive step, and hope that the AVMA will continue to advocate for the health and welfare of all animals.

  2. I am a shelter veterinarian. I am used to the challenge of providing animals with living space of sufficient quality and quantity. Routinely, I see cats in such small cages that they have nowhere to rest except their litter box, and dogs bouncing off the walls of barren concrete and wire runs. Thankfully, most shelters strive to provide more space and enrichment for the animals in their care, and most shelter dogs and cats have to live only temporarily in cramped and impoverished cages. Laying hens are less fortunate. Currently, the vast majority of the 280 million hens in the United States are provided with just 67 square inches of space per bird, approximately 2/3 the size of a sheet of paper, on which to live their entire lives. Experts in poultry science, behavior, and husbandry agree that hens need more space than they are currently given, even to simply stand comfortably, much less spread their wings or even walk freely. In addition, in current barren battery cages, hens have no opportunity to engage in instinctual behaviors such as nesting.

    When I became a veterinarian, I took an oath to protect animal welfare and to prevent and relieve animal suffering. There is no doubt in my mind that the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments will improve the welfare of millions of laying hens. Even if I wasn’t passionate about improving the welfare and relieving the suffering of intensely confined farm animals, I would simply be professionally obligated to support this legislation.

    This bill has brought all the major stakeholders together. The egg industry likes it because it will prevent a patchwork of conflicting regulations from state to state and thereby level the playing field between egg producers across the country. Animal welfare organizations because they know it will improve the welfare of hens.

  3. I’ve worked on livestock welfare on the Federal (USDA/APHIS/VS) and organizational level(HSUS) over the years and I’m very pleased and proud that the AVMA did not stay neutral on this legislation as it likely would have done in the past.

    Organized veterinary medicine is finally finding its voice in support of animal advocacy. Good for you AVMA.

  4. I am happy to see that the AVMA chose to take a stand on this subject in favor of improving the husbandry practices in production chickens. I also agree however, that the bill itself doesn’t do nearly enough to address and improve the terrible conditions these birds are forced to live in. The AVMA needs to take not just a verbal stand but actively work towards reforming the conditions and legal standards for all layers (not just the largest companies).

    The proposed upgrades may not be a truly substantial change, and they promote conditions that are still absolutely inadequate, but at least the new habitats will be somewhat better than the status quo. And for that little bit of improvement, I will be grateful to all who supported this legislation. This may create only a small improvement for the hens, but it is potentially the beginning of a huge shift in the mindset of our most well-known U.S. veterinary organization. The administration of MY main organization has long-sided with the producers in factory farms, regardless of how efficiently brutal and inhumane their practices, because veterinarians have traditionally been the consultants and the facilitators of farm production. That was our original function in society, and taking care of pets and the human-animal bond is a recent shift in our role. But the family farms, which usually respected the needs of their animals, have almost been replaced by factories that refuse to recognize any needs but their own profit margin. And those who have been elected to represent our profession have been slow to recognize that the new “farmers” have gone way over the line. Up until now, I have been ashamed that MY organization was willing to turn a blind eye to such obvious animal cruelty. So maybe, just maybe, this tiny step may not do all I’d like for the hens, but it could be the first step in shifting the mindset of not just individual veterinarians, but much of the veterinary establishment — AVMA, veterinary teaching hospitals, veterinary school curriculums, animal science programs, 4H advisors, etc. It’ll be a long journey, so all first steps must be encouraged. Thank you, AVMA, for having the common sense and the courage to take this one.

  6. Congratulations to the Executive Board for taking a stand. Though some may critize the AVMA for not taking a stand sooner, for not taking a stronger stand, for the legislation not better written, this is positive, forward momentum. The interests of the AVMA constituents are diverse and at times at odds. Leadership has weighed the pros and cons of this issue and I applaud them for their efforts.

  7. I am glad that the AVMA is taking at least these timid steps toward recognition of the veterinary responsibility for the well-being of animals. However, requiring that a chicken be allowed a 12″X12″ space to live out her short life is not achieving good welfare. In spite of the “enrichments,” a hen will still not be able to perform her natural behaviors (one of the Five Freedoms). So 15 to 18 years from now, some hens will have living quarters not quite as wretched as those they occupy now. When will the AVMA move from reactive to proactive when it comes to animal welfare!?

  8. It is our role as veterinarians to ensure the health and well being of animals. Production needs to be second in priority. These are living sentient beings and don’t deserve to be tortured, which is essentially the current accepted standard of care. I woukd sure hope the avma took a stand in favor of animal welfare even if production was affected. It is about time. The avma is stuck in decades old beliefs of animals in society, and the country is watching, and generally speaking, the animal welfare community has little respect w the decisions avma makes or not makes in regards to animal welfare. Kudos for taking a stand and possibly having to deal w the ramifications. But it’s the right thing to do. And you can’t go wrong by doing the right thing. Long term it will benefit the avma, the animals, and society. Thank you.

  9. I am very glad that the AVMA Board will take a stand in support of the welfare of hens and then hopefully all farm animals. We musn’t fear offending producers, slaughters, consumers, etc. It is our moral responsibilty (indeed our oath) to protect all animals from inhumane treatment. Really, I think this is way overdue. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

  10. (I am wondering where to find this piece of legislation, Egg Products Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 1037, as it is referenced in the current legislation up for passage. Could you please provide a link?)

    It is foolish, from a public health standpoint, not to implement chicken and egg farming regulations as our foreign friends who own most of these industries in our country care little for animal’s or our well-being. Simple fact: stressed animals shed infectious dosages of Salmonella. Healthy, unstressed animals typically do not. This is karma. We contaminate our own food supply when we allow the suffering that occurs in these heretofore unregulated facilities.

    While I agree that we as veterinarians are obligated to support animal welfare almost by definition, I am unimpressed by this bill.
    This bill has very little meat in it whatsoever and no teeth.
    “Enriched cages” provide for 10×10 inches of floor space for a white hen.
    It excludes all operations under 3,000 chickens..
    There are no punitive measures except they theoretically can’t sell their chicken in this country… which just means they put them on a boat or drive them over the Mexican border, if they don’t just sell them anyways.

    The fact that this AVMA board thinks they created a milestone here is controverted by the details of this nonentity.

    A piece of legislation that really enacts animal welfare legislation is still needed even if this passes.

  11. I am happy to see the AVMA take a step toward assuming its oath-obligated role as a leading proponent of animal welfare in deed and not just word. Mark Twain said “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” I am gratified. Plus, I am hopeful of more action-changing steps by the AVMA in support of improved animal welfare.

  12. It is our moral responsibility as veterinarians, and as human beings, to support legislation that protects the basic welfare of production animals. I support the Board’s decision to take a stand, even if some members feel money is more important than humane care of our food animals. Our national failure to act on behalf of humane animal production standards sets us up for action by the radical left who would like to see no meat production at all.