In Takoma Park, Stance On Eggs Is Over Easy

By Jennifer Lenhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Takoma Park has become the first city in the country to take an official stand against the practice of housing egg-laying hens in batteries of cramped cages, a practice that is widespread in the poultry industry, city officials said.

The resolution, which was passed last week in a unanimous vote of the Takoma Park City Council, declares that the city opposes the use of the cages and urges residents of the liberal enclave in eastern Montgomery County not to buy eggs produced under those conditions.

The action by the City Council is not a ban on the sale of eggs from battery-cage hens, council member Bruce Williams said. City officials are not empowered to take such a broad action, he said.

"What we did was basically, as a public education effort, say to people that they should know that this is going on," said Williams, who sponsored the measure. "It's saying, 'We encourage you to only buy eggs that are not produced by battery-caged chickens.' " A spokesman for United Egg Producers, an industry lobbying group, said it supports consumer choice in buying eggs.

"It's rather interesting that they would encourage retail stores to carry eggs that cost anywhere from two to three times more than regular eggs," said Gene Gregory, senior vice president for United Egg Producers. "We believe in consumer choice and we believe consumers should have the right to purchase what they want and not be legislated or mandated or encouraged by city council or anyone else to pay more for eggs."

E-mails from people who support the decision have arrived in a steady stream since the council passed the resolution, said Williams, the representative for the city's 3rd Ward.

One e-mail addressed to council members began: "I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the important and precedent-setting step you took to pass the resolution condemning battery cages."

The writer, Lori Prantil, is responsible for food services as manager of business services at AOL. The company decided earlier this year to "only offer cage-free eggs in our establishments. I am so thrilled to hear that [this] type of measure is extending to local governments."

Offbeat measures are the heart and soul of Takoma Park, which has its own corn silo and once declared itself a nuclear-free zone.

Williams said that he decided to look into the egg issue, which has long been the subject of animal-rights campaigns, after it was brought to his attention by a handful of constituents who said "it was important to them, and they were hoping that the council could do something that would be supportive."

One of those residents was Paul Shapiro who has researched the conditions in battery-cage barns as director of the factory-farming campaign at the Humane Society of the United States.

Battery cages are stacked on top of one another in barns that can hold up to 100,000 birds, Shapiro said. The cages are confining, measuring about 62 square inches, and birds do not have room to stand, he said.

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