NAEF is urging egg farmers to explain how an animal welfare policy of transitioning to cage-free eggs is a step backwards. NAEF is not opposed to producing cage-free eggs, just opposed to the false premise in the recent food company announcements that cage-free eggs are more humane and better quality of eggs. This implies that eggs produced in conventional cages are not.
Animal activists are reaching out to food companies that use eggs urging a transition to cage-free eggs. Conventional cage egg farmers are being urged by NAEF to expose the false narrative that cage-free is more humane or produces a better quality egg.
Some egg farmers have done that using the results from the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply. From a humane standpoint, egg quality standpoint, a farm worker standpoint, and cost standpoint, conventionally-produced eggs score the highest. Egg farmers know that animal activists are intent on forcing production changes in the egg industry that will increase the cost of eggs without the supposed benefits they claim. Furthermore, egg farmers have learnded that the animal activists will not be content with simply cage-free, but now they are recommending access to the out-of-doors. While this seems innocent to the uninformed, out-of-doors access is setting up the industry for another devastating avian influenza outbreak.
Below are some points egg farmers are using in customer communications:
1. Humanely producing eggs
Cage-free increases the stress on chickens due to the establishment of a “pecking order” among the chickens. The behavior inherent in chickens is to determine the social standing of the individual hens through “pecking” each other. The individual chicken lower in the social order is pecked the most. When chickens are housed in conventional cages with 6 chickens, the establishment of this pecking order is minimized compared to thousands of chickens in a cage-free environment.
2. Egg quality
The Journal Poultry Science in 2011 [90, pp. 1586-1593] published "Comparison of shell bacteria from unwashed and washed table eggs harvested from caged laying hens and cage-free floor-housed laying hens." This study found that the numbers of bacteria on eggs was lower in housing systems that separated hens from manure and shavings. Conventional cages allow the feces to drop through the screen floor whereas in cage-free systems, the eggs are laid in the same general area for manure. The potential for contamination is increased.
These results were confirmed in the Journal Food Control published a study June 17, 2014 entitled "Microbiological Contamination of Shell Eggs Produced in Conventional and Free-Range Housing Systems" The conclusions state "Battery caged hens (conventional cages) are standing on wire slats that allow feces to fall to a manure collection system beneath the hens. Conversely, free-range hens (cage-free) laid their eggs in nest boxes on shavings and the eggs remained in contact with hens, shavings and fecal material until they are collected. The longer contact time with free-range hens, shavings and feces would explain the higher enterobacteriaceae counts (pathogenic bacteria) on free-range eggs as compared to battery caged eggs."
3. Worker safety
The results of the study by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, farm workers in cage-free egg systems were exposed to more particulate matter and more endotoxins resulting in an environment that could impair lung health. Worker ergonomics were more compromised in a cage-free egg system.
4. Egg cost
The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply has shown that eggs produced in conventional cages cost less in a) feed cost, b) pullet cost, c) labor cost, d) capital cost, e) operating cost.