It’s partly true, as noted in “The humane economy goes cage-free chic” (April 25) that the Humane Society of the United States has been successful in turning some adversaries into allies who go along with the cage-free rhetoric. This has convinced a great many retailers to transition to cage-free eggs. But that’s only part of the story.
Many egg farmers disagree with the trend, especially those in the National Association of Egg Farmers, including many from Minnesota. Experience has taught them that cage-free operation often results in more chicken deaths and lower quality of eggs.
Removing chickens from cages, where they have been for decades, will lead to chickens dying. Imagine a flock of thousands of chickens establishing a pecking order. Those lower on the pecking order are pecked more often. This is minimized in a cage environment where only a few birds are placed.
Additionally, the cage-free eggs are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria due to prolonged exposure to litter and manure in the nest boxes or on the ground.
As for workers in cage-free barns, the amount of dust inside the barn, which can transmit pathogens, represents a health risk.
And the need for workers to collect floor eggs creates ergonomic challenges, too.
The most recent outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis (a food-borne pathogen) 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 chicken farming is more humane and that it produces a better-quality egg is gaining traction from advocates such as the Humane Society.
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, buildings, and feeders, watering systems, 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.
Welcome to the “humane economy.”
We only hope your readers will realize that cage-free eggs are already available, along with organic eggs and conventional eggs — all at prices that fit differing customers’ needs.
Ken Klippen is president of the National Association of Egg Farmers.