United Egg Producers Has Egg on Its Face for Promoting Cage Confinement of Hens | Civil Eats

United Egg Producers Has Egg on Its Face for Promoting Cage Confinement of Hens

Despite recent crowing by the United Egg Producers—an agribusiness trade association—evidence shows that the national trend toward cage-free eggs is growing.

John Baker, president of Giving Nature Foods—a Pennsylvania-based cage-free egg company—asserts that “it’s shameful for the United Egg Producers to denigrate family farmers who don’t confine hens in small cages.” He continues, “As a multi-generational family farmer I can say for certain that cramming hens in tiny cages is not only cruel and inhumane, it also is a food safety threat.”

Fortunately, more and more players in the food industry are paying attention.

Earlier this year, Hellmann’s mayonnaise announced it that will convert to 100 percent cage-free eggs; all Wal-Mart’s private line eggs are cage-free; and Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Quiznos, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and Golden Corral are just some of the major restaurant chains that now use cage-free eggs, many of them with increasing percentages each year. Additionally, Michigan and California have passed laws to outlaw and phase out cages for laying hens. California recently passed a law requiring all whole eggs sold in the state to be cage-free by 2015.

In addition to it being common sense that birds shouldn’t be confined in cages where they can’t even spread their wings for their whole lives, an abundance of scientific research [PDF] also supports switching away from cage confinement systems for hens.

Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus of Poultry Science, University of Guelph, states, “The welfare advantages for non-cage husbandry systems for laying hens are overwhelming.”

Similarly, Dr. Bernard Rollin, Department of Animal Science, Colorado State University, says that “Virtually all aspects of hen behavior are thwarted by battery cages. …animals built to move must move.”

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And Dr. Michael Appleby, co-author of “Poultry Behaviour & Welfare,” sums it up well:

Battery cages present inherent animal welfare problems, most notably by their small size and barren conditions. Hens are unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors and endure high levels of stress and frustration. Cage-free egg production, while not perfect, does not entail such inherent animal welfare disadvantages and is a very good step in the right direction for the egg industry.

Not cramming hens into cages also benefits food safety [PDF]. Every one of the last ten studies comparing cage to cage-free systems found higher Salmonella rates in cage systems, including a 2010 study that found 20 times greater odds of Salmonella infection in caged flocks.

Rather than defending a system of confinement that’s simply indefensible, the United Egg Producers may want to consider a different approach: Taking a leadership position by advocating for a switch to cage-free production systems.

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Photo: Peter B. Tzannes via Flickr

Paul Shapiro is the senior director of The Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign. Follow him at http://twitter.com/pshapiro. Read more >

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  1. Elizabeth
    It's so wonderful to see so many big companies taking steps away from the heinously cruel battery cage.
  2. Liz
    Thanks for the great post. It's unfortunate that the egg industry is fighting these improvements when even the country's biggest restaurant chains are getting on board.
  3. Josh
    It's shameful that the battery cage egg industry defends the cruel and inhumane confinement of hens in small cages. What's perhaps more surprising is that the United Egg Producers, which supposedly represents the entire egg industry, issues press releases bashing egg farmers who choose not to cram hens in cages. The more people read about the UEP and battery cages, the more people are outraged by this untrustworthy and abusive industry.
  4. Maxine
    Wow, it's so great to see major corporations like Hellmann's and Walmart moving away from inhumane battery cage confinement! Really uplifting to see all the progress that's being made for hens- thanks for this great article!
  5. It is shameful that New York's Assembly could not get its act together and pass the legislation that passed in Michigan and California. The same bill was pending, but never saw the light of day after referral to the Assembly Agricultyre Committee. Truth is, even its sponsor didn't have her heart in it -- she never found a state Senate sponsor for the same bill. Ah, New York, stuck in its own muck.
  6. Simon
    While it's a good start, aiming for free-range rather than cage-free is the best option. Housing chickens in a barn as overcrowded as cage systems are doesn't do too much to improve things. Still, it's a start :)

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