Today's Dayton Daily News, Sunday September 16, provided some solid coverage, a feature, on the conditions in which egg-laying hens are kept.
I will paste the article below. It deserves some appreciative letters, singing the praises of a plant-based diet.
The Dayton Daily News takes letters at
Activists rattle cages in favor of specialty eggs
Animal welfare concerns have led to a call for more freedom of movement for hens.
By Ben Sutherly
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Demand for "cage-free" eggs means even the biggest egg producers no longer have all their business in one basket.
Many big egg farms have converted older, antiquated buildings so chickens can move about more freely.
But those farms still rely on caged chickens for the bulk of the eggs they supply to supermarkets, fast-food chains and other food retailers.
And while the egg industry is glad to supply a niche market, it isn't embracing an all-out transition to cage-free production, said Randy Pesciotta, vice president of Urner Barry of Toms River, N.J., which sets prices for commodity eggs.
"They don't want to go the cage-free route," Pesciotta said. "It's a profit center as long as it's 5 percent (of all U.S. egg production). Once it's 50 percent, it's no longer going to be."
Eggs laid in cages are a cheap source of protein and sell well during tough economic times, Pesciotta said. But he said egg consumption will drop if consumers have no choice but to pay more for cage-free eggs. They might no longer see eggs as a bargain.
"The yuppies that have money, they'll pay for them," Pesciotta said. "The guy on the assembly line's not going to pay."
Not everyone agrees. "I think most Americans who consume eggs are willing to pay a couple cents more an egg to make sure these animals are not tortured their entire lives," said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society's Factory Farming Campaign, which is pushing for more cage-free production.
Cage-free and other specialty eggs have been around for years. Mercer County's Fort Recovery Equity, which produces eggs sold under the Land O' Lakes label, has been in the specialty egg business since the early 1990s, for example.
When the Atkins diet drove up prices for eggs laid by caged chickens in January 2004, some consumers began migrating to specialty eggs because they didn't cost much more, Pesciotta said.
"From that point forward, the growth has been maintained," he said.
Egg companies also found cage-free and other specialty eggs profitable at a time when eggs laid by caged chickens were unprofitable from mid-2004 to late 2006. Since then, many producers have diversified into specialty eggs.
Egg producers are able to lock in bigger profit margins with specialty eggs, said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. He said industry data aren't available on profit margins for caged and cage-free eggs.
A recent check at Kroger found conventional eggs selling for 99 cents to $1.59 per dozen, depending on size. Cage-free brown eggs and Omega 3 eggs cost $2.49 per dozen, while eggs certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture fetch $3.49 per dozen.
Incredible, edible and debatable
Fast-food chains and other food retailers have come under pressure to ensure food they sell to consumers is raised in a socially responsible way.
Last month, for example, the Humane Society of the United States launched a radio and newspaper advertising blitz against Dublin-based Wendy's, accusing it of declining to buy cage-free eggs like its competitor, Burger King. In March, Burger King said it would make cage-free eggs 5 percent of its total egg volume by the end of this year.
"There's this image that cage-free is better," Gregory said. "The marketplace has been intimidated by activists."
About 84 percent of egg-laying hens are covered by the UEP's voluntary, science-based animal welfare program, Gregory said.
Through that program, cage space is gradually and voluntarily being increased for birds, from 56 square inches per bird in April 2002 to 67 square inches in April 2008 the equivalent of between two-thirds and three-quarters of an 8½-by-11 sheet of paper.
Egg farms have thinned their flocks in existing barns to meet the new standards, adding to their costs.
Cage-free settings give birds more freedom of movement, allowing them to spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests. But without proper management, birds in cage-free settings can act upon cannibalistic instincts, pecking each other to death, some scientists say.
"If hens are housed in noncage systems and you don't manage them properly, you can have dramatic problems with mortality," said Jeffrey Armstrong, chairman of the UEP's animal welfare advisory committee and dean of Michigan State University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Mortality can be two times as high in noncaged system than in a caged system."
While cage space under 68 square inches can result in higher mortality, Armstrong said there's no scientific evidence to suggest fewer chickens die when they're given more than 86 square inches each.
Still, Armstrong said, the UEP committee doesn't advocate one system over another.
Hens have equal access to food and water when kept in cages and aren't as likely to establish a "pecking order," said Jim Chakeres, the Ohio Poultry Association's executive vice president,
And, he said, "When we're looking at caged production, we are looking at birds that are in a more highly managed situation as far as disease prevention."
"Both systems can ... produce highly nutritious eggs," Chakeres said. "It just depends on how they're managed."
The Humane Society's Shapiro said cage-free systems aren't perfect, but are a step in the right direction.
He notes the egg industry agreed last year to drop its "Animal Care Certified" logos on egg cartons after state officials and animal rights groups said it falsely implied a higher level of care for hens. The industry also agreed to pay $100,000 to states for attorney fees, consumer education and other costs.
Egg industry allies said detractors of caged egg production are selective in the information they publicize.
Animal-rights groups are wielding undue clout over consumer choice, "strong-arming" food companies, Pesciotta said.
But Shapiro said the issue couldn't be more mainstream.
"This is why you don't see photos of battery cages on egg cartons," Shapiro said. "Egg producers know if Americans knew how their eggs were produced, they'd be horrified."
Cage-free eggs aren't just a fad, he said.
"There's a certain sense of inevitability," Shapiro said. "The more Americans learn about the way their eggs are produced, the louder the demand for change is going to grow."
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-7457 or bsutherly@DaytonDailyNews.com.
Making the cage-free choice
Several fast-food chains and other food retailers have faced the choice of whether to purchase cage-free eggs or continue to use eggs laid in cages. A glance at some of their decisions:
For cage-free eggs
Whole Foods Market
Ben and Jerry's
Burger King (committed to make 5 percent of its eggs cage-free by year's end; the rest are laid in cages)
Eggs laid in cages
Here's a side-piece to the article:
'Cage-free' production catching on at Ohio egg farms
By Ben Sutherly
Sunday, September 16, 2007
As animal activists pressure Wendy's and other food companies to cut back on buying eggs laid by caged chickens, many of Ohio's largest egg farms have quietly gone "cage-free" with some of their production in recent years.
Nationally, Ohio ranks second to Iowa in egg production, largely thanks to Mercer and Darke counties, the nation's top egg-producing counties. The two counties had a combined 16 million egg-laying hens, according to the most recent agriculture census in 2002.
Chickens housed in buildings longer than football fields and confined to what are called battery cages supply the bulk of eggs in Ohio and nationwide. But many Ohio egg producers are responding to changing consumer preferences by producing cage-free and other specialty eggs such as organic and eggs with higher amounts of Omega 3.
Cage-free eggs can fetch two to three times the price of eggs laid in a caged environment.
Mercer County-based Fort Recovery Equity, the nation's ninth largest egg producer, now has about 15 of its 60 contract farms producing specialty eggs sold under the Land O' Lakes label at supermarkets. The egg cooperative processes 15 million to 18 million dozen specialty eggs annually, or about 12 percent to 15 percent of its total output, company officials said.
About 3 percent of the 6.5 million chickens on the Equity's contract farms are cage-free. The Equity plans to increase that to as much as 5 percent by August 2008, said Jerry Knapke, production manager.
In most cases, smaller, older egg barns are being converted for the Equity's cage-free production.
Ohio Department of Agriculture inspection records show Cal-Maine, the nation's largest egg producer, has some cage-free egg production in Darke County. Nature Pure has organic and cage-free production in Union County. Both companies declined comment.
As much as 5 percent of U.S. egg production is now cage-free or organic, said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. There are no guidelines for cage-free egg production, but the UEP hopes to change that by year's end, Gregory said.
Cage-free eggs don't differ nutritionally from those laid in cages, said Marcia Greenblum, director of nutrition and food safety education at the industry-funded Egg Nutrition Center in Washington, D.C.
A guide to specialty eggs
Cage-free: Birds are not kept in cages. There are no U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for cage-free production, though industry guidelines could be in place by year's end.
Omega 3: Eggs laid by hens that are fed a special diet that can include flax seed or marine algae.
Organic: Birds must be cage-free, have some access to the outdoors and are fed organically grown feeds.
Free-range: Birds spend the bulk of their time outdoors. This kind of production remains rare in the United States.
Source: United Egg Producers
End of Dayton Daily News article.
(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)
To discontinue DawnWatch alerts go to http://www.DawnWatch.com/nothanks.php
You are subscribed to DawnWatch Ohio using the following address:
Date: Sun Sep 16 22:06:23 2007