Not everything Congress is asked to do has to do with budgets and taxes. Sometimes it’s about chickens and eggs.

The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers are asking Congress to pass a bill to improve the conditions for chickens in the egg industry.

This assumes that the chickens care. But whether they care or not, we humans should.

The Humane Society has been promoting state initiatives over the bitter opposition of the producers. Now, these opponents have called a truce and are jointly urging Congress to adopt a compromise that would improve conditions without saddling producers with overly burdensome requirements or regulations that differ from state to state.

Oregon’s Congressman Kurt Schrader, the Democrat whose district includes most of North Albany, introduced the bill along with two Republicans from California.

The bill would require producers to increase, in phases over 15-18 years to avoid a big disruption, the amount of space per hen to at least 124 square inches.

If you think that a space 124 inches square is still too small, consider that most hens now have 67 square inches, and millions of birds get even less.

The bill also calls for perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas.

It would bar excessive ammonia levels in hen houses, which calls for better management of manure.

It would prohibit the withholding of feed and water to prolong the laying cycle, something the certification program of the United Egg Producers already bans.

Finally, eggs cartons would have to be labeled to reflect the conditions in which the hens are kept: in cages, “enriched cages,” cage free, or free range.

As consumers, we rarely think about the animals that produce or become our food. But we should.

We know that animals feel discomfort and pain. We know that bad conditions can cause them great distress. Because the animals are in our power and helpless, we must avoid cruelty at all costs.

Congress should pass the bill. (hh)

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