The livestock industry is nothing if not wily when backed into a corner. Just look at what’s happening in Washington state. Washingtonians for Humane Farms have started a signature drive to put an initiative on the state ballot requiring egg producers to provide each egg-laying hen with at least 1.5 square feet of space, enough to allow her to extend her wings fully and turn around freely.

The measure, called the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, has been assigned the number 1130. Even though no one has had the chance to vote on the measure yet, Washington poultry concerns have already responded by introducing their own, watered-down bit of legislation.

SB 5487 pretends to be an animal welfare bill. Really, it just introduces some minor improvements, and doesn’t go nearly far enough, or as far as 1130. Essentially, it just codifies the practice of battery cages, and requires new cages to be just a little larger. Notice the word “new.” Only those cage systems installed after August 1, 2011 would be affected by SB 5487.

By contrast, under 1130, poultry farmers would have until 2018 to provide each hen at least 216 square inches of space to fully spread her wings, and stacking cages with egg-laying hens would be prohibited.

SB 5487 was introduced by Sen. Mark Schoesler. According to the Seattle Times, he opposes an entirely cage-free system because it would increase the cost of eggs for consumers. “This bill meets the public concerns without putting commercial egg producers out of business,” he said. Heaven forbid the cost of eggs went up in the name of protecting hens from cruelty; I suppose Schoesler thinks eggs are like water and oxygen, and somehow necessary for human survival. For what it’s worth, Mark Schoesler was the Washington Farm Bureau’s 2010 Legislator of the Year.

The real friends of animals see through Sen. Schoesler’s ruse. “The animals are still confined in cages, they’re not given very good dust baths, and their freedom of movement is still very much restrained,” said Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary.

Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, was more to the point: “Proponents of the bill intend to confuse voters … It merely gives the illusion of reform, when in reality it doesn’t offer minimal improvements, in terms of offering less cramped cages, until the year 2026.”

Alas, Schoesler’s stealth bill has passed both the Washington House and Senate. But it’s not too late to take action. Please call on Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire to veto this bill.

Photo Credit: Mercy for Animals