It looks like the egg industry is caving to complaints from its critics.

Threatened with a series of state laws cracking down on cramped cages, the egg industry on Thursday said it would agree to seek federal regulation to improve conditions for egg-laying hens.

In an unusual move, the United Egg Producers announced the effort in a joint appearance with the Humane Society of the United States. The egg group represents 95 percent of the egg-laying hens in the United States.

Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society's president, said the new standards would be a historic improvement for millions of animals.

Essentially, egg-laying chickens would get more space to do their job.

The two groups are proposing that Congress write and pass legislation to phase-out cramped cages over several years and gradually require what they call "enriched" cages. Those cages would give hens more space, perches and scratching areas that would allow them to express natural behaviors. The proposed legislation would also require companies to indicate on egg cartons how their hens were treated, with phrases such as "eggs from caged hens" or "eggs from free-range hens."

If these new regulations are passed, it would mean massive changes for the industry.

The more-cramped conventional cages are now used by more than 90 percent of the egg industry. Under the proposed legislation, egg producers would invest $4 billion over the next 15 years to phase them all out and the amount of space birds are given would gradually increase over that time.

Changes for chickens could mean changes for other animals.





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