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This Bill Is for the Birds

Vermont lawmakers have a lot on their plates

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Laying hens have a pretty raw deal at factory farms. Often confined to tiny cages, the birds spend their entire lives unable to spread their wings. On February 15, two members of the Vermont House, Carol Hosford (D-Waitsfield) and Jim Masland (D-Thetford), introduced H.311 to try to alleviate the birds' suffering.

Citing Ben & Jerry's recent decision to use only cage-free eggs, and work by students at UVM and Middlebury urging the same on their respective campuses, the bill proposes state agencies and offices do the same. The law would also require that all Vermont hens be afforded enough space to "extend fully both wings without touching the sides of the living space or other birds."

Masland's not sure the House Agriculture Committee will even look at the "chicken bill," as he calls it. "This year we've had a super-flood of bills," he points out. Of the 511 measures that have been introduced during this session, "maybe 100 will be given serious consideration," he says. But he holds out hope there may still be some interest. "Eggs are good, but we don't need to do that nasty stuff to get them," he suggests.

Committee Chair David Zuckerman (P-Burlington) is also uncertain about the prospects for the proposed poultry legislation. Some committee members would like to pursue it, he says, while others sees it "as more of a 'feel-good' bill." The committee is currently focused on "agricultural viability issues" such as slaughterhouse capacity, he says.

Ag isn't the only place where food-related legislation is in the works. Rep. Thomas Koch (R-Barre) introduced H.477, which "proposed to require chain restaurants to post nutritional information for all food sold." On the Senate side, Kevin J. Mullin (R-Rutland) wants to emulate New York City - he sponsored S.130, which would "ban the use of artificial trans fat at food service establishments in Vermont beginning July 1, 2007."

Not all of the proposals are bans or restrictions. S.120 would legalize wine tasting at farmers' markets, and H.20 would allow for the creation of two special Vermont license plates - one to promote skiing and the other, maple syrup.

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