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Saturday March 24, 2018

Message from Kathy

One important goal of our Farmer Goes to Market program is to bring you farm-related news you're not getting from the other mainstream media outlets. Here's this month's breaking news: You may have read the news reports about the "landmark" agreement between the nation's top animal-rights organization and the egg-farmer's association. But there's an important aspect you probably haven't heard about, as this month's Farmer Goes to Market feature story points out here. The agreed upon legislation, if it passes next year as advocates hope, will give egg farmers up to 18 years to change their barns to accommodate the new requirements. However, we have learned that it's only within three years that every egg sold in the country will have to be labeled as to how those hens lived.

As the Country of Origin Labeling experience taught us, three years is a tight window in which to impose what will likely be burdensome labeling and merchandising changes, especially when the required information keeps changing as you go along.

But the point that ought to have grocers more concerned is the impact it will have on consumers, both before and after the labeling restrictions go into effect. Do you know what's "humane" and "inhumane" when it comes to housing hens? What does "enriched housing" mean? Why is it important that hens be able to  "scratch?" Is 144 square inches of cage space more humane than 67 square inches? Why? How many perches should hens be allowed per cage? Should they be elevated, or not? How big should their dust-bathing area be?

All these questions and many more will be raised when shoppers come face to face with new federally required egg labels. And when the consumer asks those questions, they won't be asking them of HSUS or UEP. If you don't have answers to those questions, and more, you'd better get them, and fast. The United Egg Producers relieved some of the nearly unbearable pressure being put on them through lawsuits and state ballot initiatives by agreeing to make some longterm changes. But in the process, they dropped a whole lot of explaining onto you, which you're going to have to be able to do in a relatively short term.

The HSUS/UEP agreement shows that others in the food chain are now more than willing to leave it in our hands, regardless of how well prepared we are to answer for them. So I encourage you to do more than just read the Farmer Goes to Market newsletter. Send me questions you have about this issue. Let me know what kind of support material you need from your partners in the food chain to help come up with answers to questions you can't even form yet. Let me know if you're willing to invest a day out of the office to tour an egg farm, and put your questions directly to the farmer.

Kathy Siefken
Executive Director
Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

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