Egg Producer Agreement Shows the Value in Mediation

Todd Janzen  By Todd J. Janzen, Partner, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP

A recent NPR story provided a good synopsis of how the United Egg Producers (United Egg) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) came together to resolve their differences. Rather than spend millions of dollars fighting years of litigation over animal welfare, United Egg and HSUS signed an agreement that requires egg producers to increase cage sizes over next 10-15 years, and in exchange, the HSUS will retract its litigation talons (and likely sink them into something else).

Eggs

As explained on NPR, the dispute between HSUS and United Egg was years in the making:

[Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS,] has been among that industry's fiercest critics. He took aim, specifically, at the industry's standard practice of crowding chickens into long lines of wire cages, with hundreds of thousands of birds in a single chicken house.

"I said that these factory farms were cruel and inhumane, no question about that," he says. "We're passionate about this issue. We want to see changes within this industry."

This did not stop Gene Gregory, president of United Egg from sending Mr. Pacelle a request "to talk." The result:

Within a few months, the two sides came up with a compromise. They agreed to jointly lobby Congress for a law that would allow farmers to keep their chickens in cages, but the chickens would get twice as much space, plus perches and "nest boxes" where they could lay their eggs.

The changes will be phase in over the next 15 years.  The settlement now moves to Washington, D.C., where it must be approved due to antitrust concerns.

This story reminds me of the many mediations I've attended over the years. Mediation is a purely voluntary process, where litigants sit across the table from each other and, with the help of a neutral third party mediator, attempt to reach a compromise. Often times, as with the HSUS and United Egg agreement, the result is something that makes both parties equally unhappy, but as a result, a deal is struck. The alternative, potentially years of litigation, expensive discovery and trial preparation, and the possibility that a party might ultimately get nothing or lose everything, makes a compromise more desirable to both sides. The process is not always pretty, but it often works.

Read or listen to the entire NPR story here:  How Two Bitter Adversaries Hatched a Plan to Change the Egg Business.

The United Egg and HSUS agreement can be found here:  Historic Agreement

Todd J. Janzen, a partner at Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP, represents buyers and sellers of commercial and industrial properties and other business assets in transactional, regulatory compliance and business litigation matters.  Todd also assists landowners with cost recovery and environmental clean up efforts.  He has a vibrant agricultural law practice and is a founding member and past chair of the Indiana State Bar Association's Agricultural Law Section. Todd serves as the General Counsel to the Indiana Professional Dairy Producers, an organization representing more than 200 dairy farmers in Indiana, and is a frequent author and speaker on agricultural law and commercial real estate topics.

Read more at Janzen Ag Law Blog by Todd Janzen.

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