More than 100 companies purchasing eggs now are demanding their sources produce cage-free eggs. The idea of chickens roaming about, scratching in the dirt, elicits an idealistic thought that it leads to better animal welfare and better quality eggs. The National Association of Egg Farmers wants consumers to know that this is simply not true.
Not more humane – Removing chickens from cages, where they have been for decades, will lead to issues with more chickens dying. Chickens establish a “pecking order” among those in their group. Imagine a flock of thousands of chickens establishing a pecking order among themselves. Those lower on the pecking order are pecked more often. This is minimized in a cage environment where only a few birds are placed.
Food safety concerns – Cage-free eggs are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria due to prolonged exposure from litter and manure in the nest boxes or on the ground. The most recent Salmonella enteritidis (a foodborne pathogen) outbreak linked to eggs comes from a cage-free farm in Lebanon, Ohio. A recent Food and Drug Administration warning letter was issued to a cage-free egg farmer in Missouri. Yet the narrative that cage-free chickens produce a better quality egg gains traction because few are exposing this false premise.
Farm workers adversely affected – As for the workers in cage-free barns, the amount of dust, which can transmit pathogens, inside the barn represents a health risk to farm workers, and the need for workers to collect floor eggs creates ergonomic challenges, too.
Fewer egg farmers – Farmers want to please their customers and so there will be more cage-free farms built, but the smaller farmer will struggle with the estimated costs of $40 per bird for the labor, building, feeders, waters, and nests in their cage-free barns. The larger egg farmers will build these structures and increase their market share as the smaller farms cannot compete and simply quit the business. The end result will be fewer, but larger farms producing eggs.
Source: National Association of Egg Farmers
Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS