Utah Passes Legislation Enforcing Cage-Free Conditions for Egg-Laying Hens
On March 17, 2021, Utah’s legislature and Governor Spencer Cox of Utah passed a bill which will enforce changes to the Agricultural Code regarding egg-laying hens, effective January 1, 2025. The bill is an important victory for animal welfare activists and food safety officials alike.
This bill addresses two major problems with conventionally run egg farms that house egg-laying hens in confined spaces. Firstly, this method inflicts inhumane living conditions on the chickens and secondly, this environment provides a breeding ground for diseases, such as salmonella. When chickens are kept in such confined spaces, their eggs sit in their feces for long periods of time, as well as mix with the feces of other chickens surrounding them. In summary the bill states that cage-free housing systems, in which the hens “are free to roam unrestricted” with “at minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes”, will be enforced for any farm operation housing 3,000 or more chickens by 2025.
Salmonella are a type of bacteria which can cause moderate to severe gastrointestinal illness known as salmonellosis. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), Salmonella causes 1.35 million cases of illness, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States on average each year. Salmonella is transmitted by ingesting the bacteria through contaminated food or drink or by coming into contact with infected animals or their feces. One of the most common ways in which Salmonella is spread is through eggs. Eggs become contaminated with salmonella when chicken feces located on the outside of the shell permeate or come into contact with the interior of the egg, which in the case that it is consumed raw or under cooked, often results in the transmission of salmonellosis.
Utah is not alone in its decision to enforce cage-free standards for medium to large chicken operations; Colorado, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington have all established cage-free mandates as well. For further information regarding Utah’s cage-free bill, visit the Utah’s State Legislature website here.