An egg-laying hen operation in Puerto Rico. The chickens live under a dawn and sunset light-simulator that helps promote a healthy egg production, according to the USDA. Credit: USDA Photo by Preston Keres

More than three-fourths of egg-laying hens live in states with no battery cage regulations, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Battery cages are small wire cages stacked multiple rows high where several chickens are closely confined in each unit, and where most of the nearly 380,000 egg-laying hens in the U.S. spend their lives.  

With automated conveyor belts that collect eggs and distribute feed, battery cages resemble factory assembly lines. The United Egg Producers’ minimum space standard per hen is 67 square inches – smaller than a piece of printer paper. They are so small that hens cannot open their wings or even turn around fully. 

Since there are no federal welfare laws for farmed animals in the U.S., battery cage regulation has fallen to state governments. As of December 2022, 10 states – Michigan, Massachusetts, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Rhode Island and Colorado – have implemented battery cage-related laws, according to a USDA report.

Utah and Rhode Island ban battery-caged production, Ohio has a moratorium on new battery cage operations, and the rest ban the use of battery cages or the in-state sale of products from operations using battery cages. 

While the majority of chickens do not live in these states with protections, they are still affected. In-state sales bans essentially impose animal welfare standards onto producers in other states by requiring them to adhere to the laws of the states they hope to sell in. One 2021 study estimated California’s ban decreased industry retail profits by 18%. 

Some state attorney generals, including Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, and Wisconsin, have attempted legal challenges to such bans but have not been successful. 

Existing laws may indirectly impact other states but unless additional states pass legislation, the USDA report notes, only 13% of total egg production will occur in states with any confinement regulation by 2026. 

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Explainer A data-driven story that provides background, definition and detail on a specific topic.