This is in response to the Op-Ed February 10, 2014 in the LA Times by Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary, “Which Came First, Healthier Chickens or Cheaper Eggs?” His explanations of today’s modern chicken farm are inaccurate, and his citations from the European Union’s new law provide only part of the story. The readers of the LA Times deserve better than only part of the story.
It’s true that the Californians voted on November 4, 2008 in support of Proposition 2 that requires chickens producing eggs be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs with touching another chicken or the side of their enclosure. It was followed by California law AB 1437 on July 6, 2010 requiring all eggs sold in California abide by state law. Just reading Mr. Friedrich’s op-ed may sound like a good thing to consumers, but today’s modern chicken producing farm allows their chickens to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs in their modern, cage systems. The same year that California’s Governor signed AB 1437 into law, Dr. Kenneth Anderson, NC State, published his research findings showing the modern, caged chickens are in healthier conditions as evidenced by 1) a greater number of eggs produced, 2) larger eggs, 3) more grade A eggs, 4) better feed conversion rates, 5) significantly lower mortality rates compared to chickens taken out of cages, 6) higher antibody levels protecting the chickens from poultry-related diseases. The California egg farmers with colony cages extol their virtues in hopes of convincing other egg farmers to make the investments up to $40 per chicken for the new cages, but the initial research from the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of poultry scientists, noted these cages resulted in more leg and wing breakages. Anyone observing these new colony cages can see why. The birds race through the cage and run into the perches and injury themselves. Certainly Mr. Friedrich, professing a reverence for animal welfare, would not intentionally want to see more chickens with broken wings or broken legs.
As to the European Union experience, that new law went into effect January 1, 2012 (Council Directive 1999/74/ED). When this new law went into effect, European stores reported shortages of eggs up to 20% as a result of the new law with prices increasing a whopping 44%.
Dr. Atoussa Mazaheri, Company Veterinarian with Lohmann Tierzucht in Cuxhaven, Germany reported that the German egg farmers who installed the enriched colony cages in that country regretted it. Dr. Mazaheri stated publicly the animal rights activists were not satisfied and are pressing the retailers to go cage-free altogether. Those “good intentions” by the German Bungestag, reported Dr. Mazaheri, yielded more problems with the re-emergence of poultry diseases that had been previously eradicated since 1998. These included Erysipelas showing a drop in egg production upwards of 15% and mortality of 30%; Blackhead which can only be cured with penicillin, but not allowed in poultry in Germany; and Pox (Fowl Pox) which has a mortality ranging between 10-50%. Certainly Mr. Friedrich would not want to see an increase in poultry diseases.
The same year of the California egg law, Dr. Impke de Boer, Wageningen University in Holland presented her research on greenhouse gas emissions at an international forum with the modern, conventional cage system at the lowest of any animal. The chickens in modern systems produced 2.2 kg of carbon equivalent per kilo of eggs, 25% less than other forms of egg production.
Lastly, Mr. Friedrich, should perhaps re-read his copy of the U.S. Constitution concerning his claims against the lawsuit filed by the Missouri Attorney General. Article 1, Section 8, clause 3 of that founding document clearly states the power to regulate commerce among the states lies with the Congress. Some in California claim their state’s rights under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, however that amendment begins by stating “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution…” In other words, claiming state rights cannot supercede what is already enumerated in Article 1.
Californians deserve to hear both sides of the debate concerning how eggs are produced and I appreciate the privilege to provide the other side.
Ken Klippen, with two degrees in Poultry Science and more than 30 years in the egg industry, is representing Egg Farmers of America.