Rhode Island legislators have voted to phase out the use of battery cages for egg-laying hens by 2026. The mandate will require all egg producers in the state to use cage-free facilities instead. It’s now the seventh U.S. state to enforce such a ban, joining California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon.
“The law is yet another signal to egg producers that battery cages — tiny wire cages where the birds are packed tightly together — are unacceptable,” Kitty Block, acting President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post. “A hen confined in a cage typically has less space than the size of an iPad in which to live her entire life. The confinement causes constant frustration and prevents her from engaging in numerous important, natural behaviors, including nesting, dust bathing, perching and foraging. She’s unable even to spread her wings.”
Farm Animal Confinement
HSUS started working with Rhode Island legislators in 2012 to prohibit confinement practices common in the veal and pork industries; veal calves are tethered in dark crates or stalls and gestation crates for pregnant or nursing pigs are so small they even prohibit the animals from turning around.
“We’ve been working with those coalition partners ever since to get hens added to the law,” Block wrote. “Our effort was opposed every step of the way by the egg industry.”
Block says the bill isn’t perfect, “setting a deadline of 2026 that we believe is longer than necessary,” but it does help move the dial forward on animal welfare reform in the state and helps set precedents for other states home to livestock industries.
The Industry’s Shift to Cage-Free Eggs
A growing number of leading food producers, distributors, and restaurants have pledged to shift to cage-free eggs. Most have supply chain deadline of 2025, but some have already made major headway in shifting suppliers.
Rhode Island’s legislation comes just several months after a coalition of animal rights organizations secured enough signatures to get an historic measure on the November 2018 California ballot. If it passes it will be the most progressive animal welfare legislation in the world.
The measure, dubbed Prevent Cruelty California, would prohibit the confinement of egg-laying hens, pigs used for breeding, and calves raised for veal. It would also require that any eggs, pork, or veal products sold in the state of California meet those standards; it would pressure suppliers across the globe to shift their supply chains if they want to keep doing business with the state. California is the world’s fifth largest economy, even beating out the UK.
There are more chickens on the planet than any other type of animal. According to the United Nations, an estimated 19 billion chickens are raised for their meat or eggs every year.