United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are calling a truce in the caged-layer wars and have agreed to seek federal legislation to phase out conventional cages and replace them over the next 15 to 18 years with “enriched colony” cages with perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas.

“We believe it is far better to have one single, national standard in federal legislation for the production of shell egg and egg product markets without state trade barriers for our customers and one that is phased in over several years to minimize any marketplace disruption,” UEP said in a statement.  “This is especially important for our retail customers that have stores in multiple states.”

The caged layer industry has been beset by pressure from animal rights activists, who won a ballot initiative in California in 2008 to ban conventional cages.  The activists are currently seeking ballot measures in Oregon and Washington, but HSUS agreed to drop those campaigns.

“We always feel that if we can work with the folks who are handling the animals and get them to agree to improve standards, that’s the best outcome,” said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of HSUS.  “We don’t have to be locked in combat forever.  That’s not our goal.  Our goal is the welfare of animals.”   HSUS also agreed not to sue conventional producers, according to a statement from UEP.

“UEP and HSUS have agreed not to initiate, fund, or support any state legislation or ballot initiative measures concerning space requirements for housing of laying hens,” the UEP statement said.  “HSUS and UEP have also agreed that they will not initiate, fund, or support litigation against, or investigation of, either party, or UEP members while this agreement is in force.  Neither HSUS nor UEP will fund or support any other organization for the specific purpose of achieving a result contrary to the provisions of this agreement.”

UEP and HSUS said they would petition the federal government for legislation to require new standards nationwide, phased in over a period of years.

“For newly built or remodeled housing, a transition schedule has been agreed upon for inclusion in proposed legislation whereby all new cages would be enrichable colony and ultimately fully enriched with nest, perches and scratch area and providing a space of 124 square inches per hen,” UEP said in explaining the deal.  Brown hens would get 144 square inches, UEP said.   The transition will begin three years from the date of enactment of the act and be fully completed by December 31, 2029, UEP added.

If passed by Congress and signed by the President, UEP said, the federal law would supersede state laws that have been passed in Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio, as well as the initiative in California. The federal law would provide an earlier deadline of 2015 for egg producers in California to provide larger cages with environmental enrichments, UEP said.

“America’s egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers,” said Bob Krouse, chairman of UEP and an Indiana egg farmer.  “We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers.”