Four states besides California are phasing in new laws that give chickens more room in cages. Nineteen more states allow voters to make new laws through the initiative process, which the Humane Society vowed to pursue and the egg industry group sought to avoid.
The Humane Society said it compromised in part because the states with the most chickens — Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Texas — don't allow ballot initiatives.
"We've had this battle for a long time, and it's costing a lot of money," Gregory told The Associated Press. "But we have to do something for our customers and consumers other than an unsustainable cage-free industry."
Gregory said his group reached out to the Humane Society and proposed the national enriched colony plan.
"They were receptive to that," he said.
It turns out there is a benefit for egg farmers to the new system. According to preliminary data collected at JS West in Modesto, so far California's only egg producer with an enriched colony system, chickens in in the larger European-style cages produce more eggs in a year, have lower mortality rates and have better feather cover — a sign of good health.
"They're producing well, if not better," said Jill Benson of JS West, which sells the eggs under the Comfort Coop label. "You can see them engaging in all of these natural behaviors that they didn't have the opportunity to do before."
None of this satisfies Miller at the Humane Farming Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, or a coalition of beef, pork and lamb producers that have become unlikely bedfellows.
In a letter to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who is chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, the coalition of beef, pork and lamb producers urged the defeat of the bill so they would not become the next target.
"Our gravest concern," the letter stated, "is that this could leach into all corners of animal farming, irreparably damaging the lives of family farmers across the country."
To view the Comfort Coop chickens live go to: http://bit.ly/hwpldH
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