In the July 9th issue of Agri-Pulse was an article about Dr. Craig Morris, AMS/USDA, leading the U.S. delegation to the International Standardization Organization (ISO) toward developing a voluntary set of standards on animal welfare. The National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF) saw the potential dangers from those who want to mandate colony cages for egg laying chickens. NAEF expressed concern to the U.S. Delegation leaders that the ISO may be a renewed effort to standardize the U.S. egg industry into enhanced colony cages.
Dr. Craig was quoted in a recent issue of Agri-Pulse “….the food industry isn't looking for changes in the way we treat, transport or slaughter food-producing animals in the U.S.” The National Association of Egg Farmers wrote to Dr. Craig supporting his position statement while underscoring the fact the egg farmers are producing safe and wholesome eggs that are scientifically-supportive of the hen’s welfare.
NAEF reminded Dr. Craig that the DC-Barnyard (AFBF, National Pork Producers, National Cattlemen, National Chicken, National Turkey and the National Association of Egg Farmers) just recently were successful in defeating a similar attempt to change the U.S. egg industry into one national federal standard for egg production through a national egg bill. For us it would actually have led to the smaller egg farmers throughout the country actually going out of business. Whereas the larger egg complexes could gradually make the transition over a 15-year period, the smaller egg farmers would not be able to because of the egg processing capabilities on those smaller farms. Those smaller egg farmers would be forced to make the conversion in one step leading to an economic disadvantage leading to insolvency for them.
Any implied claims of increasing space for egg-producing chickens leads to better welfare is incorrect. Consider the facts. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2010 released a report on the welfare implications of various kinds of housing. (www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/cage_noncage_systems.asp) The report concluded consumers need to balance the hen’s freedom against exposure to potential hazards such as disease vectors and the cannibalism caused by pecking. Certainly cannibalism and pecking are welfare issues, and in conventional cages where the number of chickens is minimized, these concerns are also reduced compared to other systems. Dr. Kenneth Anderson, NC State University, presented his research findings to delegates at the 2010 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention March 16-18, 2010 where he noted that chickens reared in conventional cages had significantly greater numbers of Grade A eggs, significantly greater numbers of total eggs produced, and significantly better feed conversion rates (meaning a lower carbon footprint), and a better immune response (meaning better able to resist disease). Certainly these are indicators of a healthier chicken and thus better welfare.
Recent research funded by the USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation announced on June 6, 2014 the completion of a funded research project at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, which examined the impact of stocking density on enriched colony cages. This study shows a minimal impact on welfare in a comparison between 72 sq. in. per bird and 144 sq. in. per bird. Project #670: Enriched Colony Cages: Stocking Density on Laying Hen Well-being - Dr. Darrin Karcher and Dr. Maja Makagon at Michigan State University studied the impact of stocking density on egg production and the well-being of laying hens in enriched colony cages. The researchers found minimal differences in measures of production and well-being at the various stocking densities, from 464 cm2 (72 sq. in) to 929 cm2 (144 sq. in.) per bird during the period of 17 to 69 weeks of age.
The National Association of Egg Farmers urges the U.S. delegation to the ISO please consider the supporting science provided here coupled with the mistakes inherent in the European Union egg law (EU Council Directive 1999/74/ED). The article from Farming UK (see website below) demonstrates the suffering resulting in Europe as a result of implementing one national standard for egg production on January 1, 2012. The Germans moved even quicker than the whole of the European Union and implemented a new national law in 2010.
The article quotes an international economist who predicts that 30% of the German egg farmers will likely become insolvent by October.
NAEF expressed confidence that Dr. Craig will vanguard the interests of egg farmers nationwide in the ISO discussions, and not succumb to the EU or any others who press for enhanced colony cages that do not manifest welfare benefits to the egg-producing chicken.