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The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has launched the “Choose Cage-Free” campaign in the United States and Canada to encourage consumers to buy cage-free eggs.
“Keeping hens in cages is one of the cruelest and most inhumane practices in modern farming,” argued Anne Lieberman, executive director of New York-based WSPA USA. “The suffering is so vast. Over 300 million hens live in small, barren cages, but every single day, people can make the simple choice to help these animals. Buying cage-free eggs supports better hen health and welfare, and provides safer, more wholesome eggs for consumers.”
In response to a query by Progressive Grocer, Joanne C. Ivy, president and CEO of the Park Ridge, Ill.-based American Egg Board noted: “America’s egg farmers believe in consumer choice and work hard to provide the best quality, nutrition and variety to their customers and produce eggs from multiple production systems, including conventional, cage-free, enriched colony and free-range. Depending on preference, consumers could spend anywhere from $3 per dozen for specialty eggs (cage-free, free-range, organic, nutrient-enhanced), compared to approximately $1.80 per dozen for conventional eggs.”
According to WSPA, 95 percent of egg-laying hens in the United States live their entire lives in small cages that they share with five or six other birds. The cramped living conditions suppress their immune systems, making them highly susceptible to infections and bacteria such as Salmonella, WSPA USA said, adding that eggs from cage-free hens have a lower risk of Salmonella contamination.
A recent study conducted on behalf of WSPA by a third-party firm, The NPD Group Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., found that U.S. consumers believe 68 percent of their eggs come from hens kept in cages, when the actual number is closer to 95 percent. The study also found that 58 percent of Americans believe that humane treatment for hens includes the ability for them to stretch their wings and move around.
According to the same survey, more than 50 percent of consumers’ purchases are influenced by lower food safety risks, and almost half of egg buyers would purchase a different brand if they found out the product came from animals that suffered.
“Whenever we buy eggs at the grocery store or order them at a restaurant, we’re making a choice about the kind of food we want to eat and the kind of world we want to live in,” said Lieberman. “If we can let consumers know how much better cage-free eggs are for hens and for people, we know more of them will make the right choice.”
Pending federal legislation supported by the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States would require the industry to transition to enriched colony cage houses that increase the space per hen by nearly double and include a nest, perches and scratch area.
“It is believed that this new type of housing will improve the welfare of hens and improve the hen's performance,” said Gene Gregory, president/CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based industry association United Egg Producers.
If passed, the legislation would give egg farmers 18 years to comply with the new standards, “to minimize any cost increase to the farmers’ production costs and to consumers,” Gregory explained. “We do not anticipate the transition to enriched colony cages will impact sales in any negative way.” Gregory’s group estimateed the new standards could increase egg prices by 2 cents a dozen over the compliance period.
In fact, the association warns that egg prices could jump without consistent federal standards as individual states adopt a patchwork of differing regulations, such as a California law scheduled to take effect in 2015. More information about the legislation is available online.