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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's egg-laying hens will have more room to roam under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Spencer Cox.
SB147 prohibits egg producers from confining hens to cages beginning on Jan. 1, 2025. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, also requires farmers to provide hens perches, nest boxes, scratching areas and other amenities that allow them to "exhibit natural behaviors."
Utah joins Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island and Colorado in banning battery cages, according to an email statement from the Humane Society of the United States.
Josh Balk, the Humane Society's vice president of farm animal protection, said Utah's law is part of a rapid industry shift toward cage-free practices.
"Now, nearly 30% of the industry is cage-free," Balk told KSL.com, up from the low single-digits just 10 years ago. "That's about 90 million animals who are not in cages."
Balk added that the transition has been spurred not just by state governments, but by major egg buyers and with buy-in from industry leaders. Food companies including McDonald's, Walmart and Denny's have already committed to buying cage-free eggs, he said. And will consumers notice the difference?
"I don't think so," Balk said. "Right now, Taco Bell and Arby's are 100% cage-free. Has anyone noticed that? It just becomes the norm."
He said the move away from cages has broad, bipartisan support across the country. "Most chickens in the industry are confined in cages about the size of a home microwave," Balk said. "They're given less space than a sheet of paper to live on for their entire life." The key to change, he said, has been good-faith negotiations and laws that provide certainty, with clear guidelines and effective dates.
"I think both the egg producers and the Humane Society of the United States have done a good job listening to each other, and hearing each other's concerns, and finding a common ground that we all support."
Here in Utah, SB147 passed the Senate unanimously and the House on a 63-7 vote.