Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Profit?

Big Ag has launched an illegal plan to defeat a humane farming bill in California.
August/September 2008
Checkoff funds are to be used for research, education and marketing — not political activities.


In an effort to promote the more humane treatment of farm animals, some 800,000 Californians have signed petitions to force a vote this November on a new state law against extreme confinement of chickens, calves, pigs and other farm animals. Similar to laws recently passed in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Oregon, the initiative would outlaw confining the animals in cages or crates so small they can’t spread their wings or stretch their legs.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has reported that the American Egg Board hatched an illegal plan to fight the proposed law with a $3 million so-called “general consumer education” campaign funded by mandatory fees collected from egg producers, also known as commodity checkoff “taxes.” By law, these funds — more than $20 million a year for the egg industry — can only be used for research, education and marketing. Political activities including attempts to influence legislation are explicitly forbidden. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is supposed to provide oversight on the use of these funds, yet HSUS has released documents showing that the USDA is not doing its job. The documents provide a perfect example of how powerful vested interests can abuse the controversial checkoff programs.

“By law, The Egg Board is not allowed to engage in any kind of lobbying activity whatsoever,” says Paul Shapiro, senior director of HSUS’s Factory Farm Campaign. HSUS is threatening to sue the Egg Board the minute it begins spending to oppose California’s proposed Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

If the Egg Board really wants to increase sales, it might want to quit squawking and support the California initiative. Eliminating crowded cages nationwide would increase the cost of eggs by only a dime a dozen, an egg industry economist reported in 2005. That’s a price many would gladly pay for more humanely produced eggs.

Here are the correspondence letters between HSUS, the USDA and the American Egg Board: 

To learn more about California’s campaign to require more humane treatment of farm animals, visit their Web site.