Model Laws

Safe Egg and Laying Hen Protection Act


Read Commentary


Sec. 1. Purpose

A combination of battery cages and forced molting makes the spread of infection among laying hens practically inevitable. Disease is then passed on to consumers through egg production and poultry. Improved conditions for and treatment of laying hens will cut down on disease and the necessity for antibiotics and will make eggs and poultry sanitary and disease-free and safer for human consumption.


Sec. 2. Definitions

"Molting" means to shed hair, feathers, shell, horns, or an outer layer periodically. "Forced Molting" means the deliberate withholding of food or water from a laying hen in order to induce a loss and re-growth of feathers for the purpose of increasing or extending egg production. The term does not include withholding food or water from a laying hen upon the advice of a veterinarian for the purpose of treating disease or otherwise improving the health of the laying hen. "Laying hen" means a female chicken kept for the purpose of commercial egg production. "Nest" means: a separate space for egg laying, the floor components of which may not include wire mesh that can come into contact with the birds, for an individual hen or for a group of hens (group nest). "Usable area" means an area at least 12 inches wide with a floor slope not exceeding 14% or 8°, with headroom of at least 17.75 inches. Nesting areas shall not be regarded as usable areas.


Sec. 3. Minimum Standards for Cages

(a) Adequate installations shall be provided for feeding and watering which are sufficiently enclosed in order to provide for protection from contamination by feces, uric acid, feathers, and any other debris.


(b) All species of domestic poultry must be provided with protected, darkened, soft-floored or litter-lined nesting boxes.


(c) Each bird must be provided with a clean, usable area within the nesting box.


(d) All cage systems must comply with the following minimum criteria:

  1. At least 216.5 inches per hen of cage area, measured in a horizontal plane, which may be used without restriction, in particular not including non-waste deflection plates liable to restrict the area available, must be provided for each laying hen.
  2. A feed trough which may be used without restriction must be provided. Its length must be at least 4 inches multiplied by the number of hens in the cage.
  3. Unless nipple drinkers or drinking cups are provided, each cage must have a continuous drinking channel of the same length as the feed trough mentioned in §3(c)2. Where drinking points are plumbed in, at least two nipple drinkers or two cups must be within reach of each cage.
  4. Cages must be at least 15.75 inches high over at least 65% of the cage area and not less than 13.78 inches at any point.


(e) All animals must have direct access to these installations.


(f) Properly installed insulation and ventilation are required in the facility to ensure that air velocity, dust level, temperature, relative air humidity and gas concentrations are kept within limits that are not

  1. Main power ventilation systems are required to reduce the incidence of dust, ammonia, and other disease promoting agents in the facility's air.
  2. Internal fans must also be used in order to increase circulation and disperse heat buildup around birds; properly maintained internal propeller fans must be mounted for horizontal air delivery.
  3. An alarm system is required to warn the stock-keeper of any essential automated ventilation equipment failure.

(g) All automatic equipment must be thoroughly inspected at least once daily. Where defects are discovered these must be rectified immediately or, if this is impracticable, appropriate steps taken to safeguard the health and welfare of the laying hens until the defect has been rectified. Alternative ways of feeding and of maintaining a satisfactory environment must be available for use in the event of a breakdown.


Sec. 4. Forced Molting Prohibited

(a) A person engaged in commercial egg production shall not subject a laying hen to any forced molting procedure for any period of time.


Sec. 5. Enforcement and Penalties

(a) Violation of any Section of this statute is a misdemeanor. (b) In addition to criminal penalties, a person who violates this Section may be subject to administrative penalties imposed by the Department, which may include a civil penalty of up to $100 for each laying hen subjected to a forced molting procedure. (c) The Agricultural Department may adopt any rules regulating the treatment of laying hens that it determines to be necessary for the protection of laying hens from cruel and inhumane treatment by commercial egg producers in this State. (d) The Agricultural Department has all powers necessary or appropriate for the administration and enforcement of this Act.


Sec. 6. Severability and Liberal Interpretation

The provisions of this statute shall be severable, and if any court of competent jurisdiction declares any phrase, clause, sentence or provisions of this statute to be invalid, or its applicability to any government agency, person or circumstance is declared invalid, the remainder of the statute and its relevant applicability shall not be affected. The provisions of this title shall be liberally construed to give effect to the purposes thereof.


Additional Commentary

Over 300 million egg laying hens are confined in battery cages in the U.S. and most are subject to forced molting in order to extend and increase their egg production. Confinement in battery cages produces diseased hens resulting in contaminated eggs and poultry. Laying hens are kept in battery cages which are completely made of wire and stacked on top of each other in a large warehouse. Hens have a strong behavioral drive to nest and spread out in groups in order to have space for other natural behaviors such as wing-flapping and dustbathing. The USDA recommends that these cages allow for only 4 inches of feeding space per hen; some hens exist in smaller spaces. The close quarters, wire cage floors, and enclosed warehouse space cause feces, excretory ammonia and uric acid to build up in the air and to directly enter the food supply by falling into feeders in cages below. As a result of the excretory ammonia and uric acid, toxic ammonia builds up and can be absorbed into eggs. To deal with the feces in the food supply and other behavioral diseases which are of a result of the battery cages, several antibiotics are put in the feed. The antibiotics themselves and resistant strains of disease such as salmonella and E. coli are then passed to humans through eggs and poultry.


Forced molting is a procedure designed to extend egg production. It consists of deliberately starving hens of food, water, and light for unspecified periods that are typically between 10 and 14 days. This cruel treatment results in the hens shedding virtually all of their feathers, increasing certain hormone levels, and prolonged egg production. This procedure increases stress levels which often result in bacterial infection, including salmonella enteritidis and other diseases. These diseases are passed onto consumers in the eggs that go to market. Over 50% of all consumer eggs are contaminated with Salmonella. In 1997, over 300,00 human illnesses and between 115-229 deaths occurred as a result of salmonella enteritidis. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service encourages egg producers to eliminate forced molting practices due to the risks to public health resulting from Salmonella infection.


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