The Greatest Fraud of 2015 that Cage-Free Improves Chicken Welfare

The Greatest Fraud of 2015 that Cage-Free Improves Chicken Welfare

The following letter to the editor was sent December 23, 2015 to the newspapers in major cities throughout the U.S. and the UK


Dear Editor,

Egg farmers nationwide are wondering why consumers are not noticing the greatest case of fraud this year with food companies announcing a new policy of exclusively offering cage-free eggs as the means of improving the welfare of chickens.  This is simply untrue and any person who watches chickens roaming about on the ground will see the reasons why.  Food companies are reacting to the pressure from the misinformation from animal activists that more space means better conditions. 


The National Association of Egg Farmers has tried repeatedly to counter this fraud by explaining to the media and to the top food retailers that cage-free systems means more chickens pecking one another in establishing a pecking order. Thousands of chickens loose on the floor establishing a pecking order increases their stress.  Pecking is an inherent behavior among chickens.  More chickens together, such as in a cage-free system, means more pecking, and those chickens lower on the pecking order are being pecked the most.  That explains why cage-free systems oftentimes have three (3) times more chicken deaths than the modern conventional cages.  An increase in deaths is hardly better welfare.


Food safety is also a concern.  Some food companies have transitioned to cage-free believing it will lead to better quality eggs.  This is another fraud perpetuated by animal activists.  Eggs laid on the same ground where the chicken manure is located hardly improves the quality of the egg.  In fact it likely increases bacterial contamination from contact with the manure.  


Cage-free eggs will increase prices.  The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply investigated the different production systems and concluded the price to produce a dozen eggs will likely increase 36 per cent. Why would food companies wish to increase food prices when the federal government’s recent statistics on food insecurity (not having enough resources to provide sufficient food) reached 14% of total U.S. households and child poverty in the U.S. has increased since the year 2000. 

Egg farmers are advising food companies not to adopt this new policy of buying only cage-free eggs because of the misinformation that they improve the welfare of the chicken or that they improve the quality of the egg.  Educated consumers can opt for cage-free at retail outlets, but when food  companies announce offering exclusively cage-free eggs, their customers, after reading this, will now know the facts too.Dear Editor,


NAEF Testifies Before Senate Agriculture Committee on Bird Flu

The National Association of Egg Farmers’ President Ken Klippen testified at the Senate Agriculture Committee’s hearing July 7th on the impact of avian influenza on the poultry industry.  Klippen said this virus was affecting every sized egg farmer, but the impact will be far greater with international trade impacting the entire economy.  He noted that 20% of the broilers are exported annually along with 12% of the turkeys and just under 5% of the eggs and egg products.  Klippen stated that 18 countries have already banned all poultry from the U.S. including China, South Korea, South Africa, and Russia.  Klippen also stated 31 countries have restricted trade with the U.S. from the infected regions or zones including Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the European Union.  Currently there are 48 countries worldwide reporting highly pathogenic avian influenza. Thomas Elam, President, FarmEcon LLC, from Carmel, Indiana also on the panel estimated a $3.3 billion loss from the depopulated chickens and turkeys due to this recent outbreak.  He added that a $1.2 billion loss could be attributed to the broiler meat industry, not from depopulated birds, but lost export markets with the chickens produced being sold domestically, increasing supplies and lowering prices.  Elam said that should this avian flu strike in Alabama and Georgia where the broiler industry dominates, the economic losses will be several magnitudes higher than what occurred with turkeys and eggs.


Klippen also reiterated the indemnification plan proposed to APHIS in May and urged the Senators to help keep the payment to egg farmers consistent with the federal regulations specifying future egg production.


To see NAEF’s testimony, fast forward the time segment in the bottom of the screen to 1:49:05 to 1:53:14. Also the response to a key question at 2:09:19 to 2:09:59


Egg Farmers Expose the False Premise that Cage-Free Eggs Are More Humane or Better Quality

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.

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