Cage-Free Egg Production Facing More Challenges

Cage-Free Egg Production Facing More Challenges



Below are two news updates concerning cage-free production practices.  One is a new video an egg farm being challenged on the humaneness of cage-free, and the other is a short recap of a paper presented at the Egg Industry Forum last week noting the problems with perches damaging the keel bone of layers.  Egg farmers searching for compromises with the animal rights community are again handed disappointments while those of us continuing to support conventional cages are being vindicated for opposing any compromise.


A New Video Claiming Inhumane Conditions at Egg Farm


The animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) who has challenged the humaneness of cage-free egg production, has circulated a video that challenges the humane conditions of cage-free layers at a Morning Fresh Farms facility in Platteville, CO.  They produce eggs to be sold at Sprouts Farmers Markets (headquarters in Phoenix), known for their organic and natural products.

The video is claimed to have been filmed at the farm location in Platteville, Colorado, over the course of nine months, according to a Phoenix Business Journal report.

Sprouts issued a statement in response to the video which states in part "Animal welfare is of utmost importance to Sprouts. All of our egg suppliers are required to meet or exceed USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services Standards, and any cage-free supplier must also meet or exceed animal welfare standards such as Certified Humane certification criteria outlined by Humane Farm Animal Care, among other nationally recognized programs. The Morning Fresh Farms’ Platteville, Colo. farm supplies Certified Humane cage-free eggs under the brand names Rocky Mountain Eggs and Egg-Land’s Best only to our Colorado and New Mexico stores."


Perches for Layers Leads to Bone Damage

A new research study shows the majority of keel bone damage originates from collisions with perches inside the layer house. Dr. Maja Makagon, assistant professor of applied animal behavior at University of California, Davis’ Department of Animal Science, discussed the results of a study conducted to analyze keel bone damage in a layer environment. Makagon, who spoke on April 19 at the Egg Industry Center Egg Industry Issues Forum in Columbus, Ohio, said the study utilized accelerometers and 3D imaging technology to study the force of the collisions and measure their effects on the keel bone.

The keel is an extension of the sternum that provides an anchor for the bird’s wing muscles and provides leverage for flight. As laying hens are being removed from a conventional cage environment, Makagon said, keel integrity is increasingly seen as an indicator of animal welfare. Damaged keels are associated with increased mortality, reduced egg production and egg quality, and keel damage is likely associated with pain for the animal.


Written Testimony Submitted to House Committee Supporting Caged Layers

Written Testimony Submitted to House Committee Supporting Caged Layers

Testimony by Ken Klippen

President of the National Association of Egg Farmers

Before the Rhode Island House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources

House Bill 6023



 Thursday, April 6, 2017





Good evening. My name is Ken Klippen, President of the National Association of Egg Farmers, a nationwide association representing approximately 200 farmers producing 14 billion eggs (more than 1 billion dozen) from approximately 50 million laying chickens. I have both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Poultry Science from Michigan State University and have spent more than 40 years in the poultry industry both in production as well as association management nationally and internationally.


Thank you for the opportunity today to testify on H6023 pertaining to animal husbandry and the proposed provisions for unlawful confinement of a covered animal outlined in H6023. As 4-1.1-1. Definitions of the act related to several farm animals, my comments will address only subsection (3) “Egg-laying hen”.


We Oppose H6023. We are opposed to H6023 because the specifications for the size of the enclosure do not contribute to the welfare of the individual chicken. Chickens establish a pecking order among a population of birds. Farmers started putting chickens into confined spaces such as conventional cages to minimize the stress from pecking. Those 6-8 birds in a cage have established which chicken is dominant and which is at the lower end of the pecking order. Imagine the stress of those lower on a pecking order when loose on the ground among thousands of chickens. The mortality (a clear indication of stress) in cage-free systems is twice that of conventional cages resulting from the pecking from the more dominant chickens.


H6023 Clause (7) states: "Fully extending the animal's limbs" means fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure. In the case of egg-laying hens, "fully extending the animal’s limbs" means fully spreading both wings without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens and having access to the amount of usable floor space per hen that complies with the 2016 Edition of the United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks "Guidelines for Cage-Free Egg Production." Will chickens that touch another chicken in a cage-free environment be in violation of this proposed law? The expression “birds of a feather, flock together” include chickens and those that are in a cage-free environment will mingle among other chickens touching one another.


Not Opposed to Voluntary Standards, But H6023 Will Enforce Mandatory Standards. NAEF does not oppose the United Egg Producers animal husbandry guidelines for cage-free egg production as they are voluntary and provide a standard for those farmers who wish to market eggs as cage-free. But H6023 is mandating that all egg produced and sold in the state must conform to those standards, taking away the individual right of the farmer and those of consumers who want a high quality, lower priced egg to purchase.


Once again NAEF is not opposed to producing cage-free eggs, but we are opposed to the false premise that cage-free eggs are more humane. 


Investigating animal welfare in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) are the two agencies that respond to citizen complaints about the welfare of livestock in the state.


Combined, the two agencies conducted approximately 65 investigations in 2016 related to livestock welfare annually which includes investigating the physical condition of animals (condition related to animal weight, lameness, and hoof care), followed by access to sufficient feed and water and access to suitable shelter. Of the complaints that these agencies receive, the majority (approximately 90%) are unfounded, stated the RIDEM.


Of those complaints that are with merit (about 6 annually, according to RIDEM), most of the situations are not due to criminal neglect, but rather ignorance or complacency within the food animal sectors.


Fortunately for Rhode Island, the one farmer producing shell eggs complies with the known animal care standards as adopted by NAEF (which provides 40 scientific references on poultry production) including proper housing, feed and water, air quality and environmental considerations for both the chickens and the workers working in the farm facilities.


What Do Poultry Scientists Claim as Acceptable Space Allowance? The following peer-reviewed scientific studies conclude that a minimum of 67 square inches per layer producing white-shelled eggs (76 square inches per layer producing brown-shelled eggs as these varieties of chickens are larger in size) will allow each individual chicken to stand upright in the cage, lie down, turn around and spread its wings while also having direct access to feed and water when desired. The following scientific references relate to space allowances for chickens producing eggs:


Scientific References:

  1. Adams, A.W. and M.E. Jackson, 1970. Effect of cage size and bird density on performance of six commercial strains of layers. Poultry Sci. 49:1712-1719.
  2. Anderson, K.E. and A.W. Adams, 1992. Effects of rearing density and feeder and waterer spaces on the productivity and fearful behavior of layers. Poultry Sci. 71:53-58.
  3. Anderson, K.E., A.W. Adams, and J.V. Craig, 1989. Behavioral adaptation of floor-reared White Leghorn pullets to different cage densities cage shapes during the initial settling-in period. Poultry Sci. 68:70-78.
  4. Anderson, K.E. 2001. Welfare implications of cage density, population, and feeder space. 2001 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention, Touchstone Energy Place at River Center, St. Paul, Minnesota March 14-15, 2001. Pp. 164-170.
  5. Anderson, K.E., G.S. Davis, P. Jenkins, and A.S. Carroll. 2004. Effects of bird age, density, and molt on behavioral profiles of two commercial layer strains in cages. Poultry Sci. 83:15-23
  6. Al-Rawi, B. and J.V. Craig, 1975. Agonistic behavior of caged chickens related to group size and area per bird.       Applied Animal Ethology 2:69-80


Food Safety Concerns. Penn State researchers have found that eggs from small flocks of chickens (typically cage-free) are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis as eggs sold in grocery stores, which typically come from larger flocks.


The results were published in the September 16, 2016 issue of PSU News:



That conclusion was drawn from a six-month study done last year in Pennsylvania. Researchers from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences collected and tested more than 6,000 eggs from more than 200 selling points across the state for the study.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that shell-egg producers from farms with 3,000 or more chickens be in compliance with the agency’s Final Egg Rule, which is aimed at restricting the growth of pathogens.


Federal regulations for these larger flocks require placement of Salmonella-“clean” chicks, intensive rodent control, cleaning and disinfecting between flocks, environmental monitoring of pullet and layer houses, continuous testing of eggs from any Salmonella-positive houses, and diverting eggs from Salmonella-positive houses for pasteurization.   However, small flocks with fewer than 3,000 laying hens are currently exempt from the rule. Eggs from these producers often are marketed via direct retail to restaurants, health food stores and farmers markets, or sold at on-farm roadside stands.


The research highlights the potential risk posed by the consumption of eggs produced by backyard and small layer flocks. And, analysis of the Salmonella enteritidis present in the eggs from small flocks shows they are the same types commonly reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from human foodborne outbreaks.


The Cost Benefit Analysis of H6023 shows enactment will also be harmful to consumers. If the one Rhode Island farmer producing eggs in conventional cages today is mandated to establish cage density for layers at 144 square inches, the costs would increase more than 90 percent. This is borne out by the document (included) comparing egg prices in California (which established a cage density for layers at 116 square inches in implementing its egg production guidelines on January 1, 2015) as reported by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Livestock, Poultry & Grain Market News National Shell Egg Index Price Report (National prices FOB and California delivered). The daily spreads before California enacted their new law mandating 116 square inches, the price differential between the state and the rest of the nation was greater. In 2015 the differential was 49 percent higher and in 2016 that price differential has skyrocketed to 90 percent higher.

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service 2012 report: Summary of RI animal agriculture: There are 1,243 total farms in the state of Rhode Island which 521 are pasture raised (raise livestock).


Poultry is a category of livestock that is better broken down into subcategories. 327 farms raised egg laying hens with 300 of them raising fewer than 400 birds.


Only 1 farmer raised more than 10,000 birds. 49 farmers raised 13,402 broiler type chickens, 24 farmers raised an undetermined number of turkeys, and 52 farmers raised 450 ducks. Other categories are primarily exhibitors or poultry fanciers who raise smaller numbers of birds.  


In effect, H6023 is targeting the one Rhode Island egg farmer and those egg farmers in nearby states producing eggs in conventional cages who provide eggs for the 1 million consumers in the state.


Conclusions. For the reasons established that 144 square inches per chicken will not improve the welfare of the chicken, small backyard flocks are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella, and the increased cost to the consumer, the National Association of Egg Farmers is opposed to H6023 proposed for Rhode Island.



Once again, thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I am prepared to answer any questions at this time.


Attachment (California Prices 90 percent higher)


Organic Rule for Poultry Mandates Outdoor Access with Space Allowances

USDA Issues Final Rule on Organic Including Animal Welfare


On January 18, 2016, the USDA issued a final rule on organic production including production of eggs that includes an animal welfare component.  NAEF issued comments and USDA made revisions in the final rule to allow for restricting outdoor access of layers (see website below).




For example in the above-referenced 212-page response from USDA, NAEF noted the following:


Pages 47-48 -- Not prohibiting beak trimming and not mandating only using infra-red for the procedure.


Pages 80-83 -- provides indoor space for layers based on 2.25 pounds of bird per 1 square foot. In explaining the details, it notes that a 32 week old bird weighing 4.3 pounds must be given 1.43 sq. feet of space.  At 80 weeks of age and weighing 4.5 lbs, the bird must be given 1.5 sq. feet.


Page 83-87 – outdoor access requirements are 1 sq. ft. for every 2.25 pounds of bird. A new section was added on page 85 to the proposed rule [205.241 (d)] noting restricting outdoor access in response in inclement weather.  A new section was added on page 86 on temporarily restricting outdoor access in consideration of the health, safety or well-being of the bird may be jeopardized.  And on page 87 is section 205.241(d)(5) restricting outdoor access for preventative health.


Organic Rule As Originally Proposed Needed Revisions


USDA proposed a new stricter federal rule (81 Fed Reg. 21955 et seq.) governing organic poultry on April 13, 2016 setting space requires at 2 square feet per bird both inside and outside stating the need for poultry to dust-bathe and peck or root in the soil. The rule will also eliminate beak trimming.


Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of USDA’s organic program was quoted in the April 8th Wall Street Journal saying that the new regulations “better align with consumer expectations.” NAEF noted the federal government needed revisions on the ramifications of outdoor access (potential for spreading avian influenza, more ectoparasites, an increase in e. coli in poultry, beak trimming reduces hen deaths, etc).


McEvoy went to say that Americans “expect organic livestock to spend a considerable amount of their life outside during appropriate weather conditions, so we proposed to codify that in a measurable way.”


Betsy Babcock, Handsome Brook Farm in New York is also quoted in the WSJ saying that only 2 square feet of outdoor space is not enough. On her pasture-raised poultry farm that allow 109 square feet of outdoor space as less space means more dirt rapidly happening from the roaming chickens.


NAEF Comments Opposing Organic Egg Production

The following are the comments filed by NAEF last April opposing the organic proposal that included an animal welfare component mandating outdoor access for egg laying chickens.

The National Association of Egg Farmers representing more than 200 egg farmers nationwide producing more than 10 billion eggs annually for human consumption appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to 7 CFR Part 205 National Organic Program; Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices. This is docket number AMS-NOP-15-0012; NOP-15-06PR (Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 0581-AD44 for this rulemaking.

The intent of this proposed rule is to create greater consistency in organic livestock practices through additional specificity and clarity to better ensure consistent compliance by certified organic operations and to provide for more effective administration of the National Organic Program (NOP) by AMS.  We appreciate the purpose of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) (7 U.S.C. 6501-6522) is to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent and uniform standard (7 U.S.C. 6501), but we question the subjective nature of some of the proposed amendments pertaining to egg laying chickens without the benefit of practical science.  Furthermore the amendments are expected to satisfy consumer expectations that organic livestock meet a uniform and verifiable animal welfare standard including exhibiting natural behaviors.  In the case of poultry, those behaviors suggest the need for dust-bathing and perching.  Poultry perform these “natural behaviors” for specific reasons, i.e. dust-bathing to rid themselves of ectoparasites that create discomfort for the poultry and perches for poultry to escape predators.  Those two reasons are why modern egg farms more than 5 decades ago house poultry in cages to reduce the incidence of ectoparasites and to protect them from predation.

The proposed amendment suggest avian living standards would set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking densities. We question the subjective determination established in the proposed rule for allowable space for poultry.  Specifically, § 205.241 (b) (7) specifies no more than 2.25 pounds of poultry per square foot of indoor space (or roughly 2 square feet per adult hen). § 205.241 (c) (3) specify no more than 2.25 pounds of poultry per square foot of outdoor space (2 square feet for an adult hen).  There is no available science today that suggests this is an acceptable space allowance. Furthermore, outdoor access of poultry is recognized by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service as potential concern in spreading poultry diseases. The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service acknowledges the potential for the spread of AI:



The other poultry viral disease recognized by the USDA Animal& Plant Health Inspection Service that can spread easily is Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) from outdoor poultry: 



We therefore strongly object to § 205.241 (d) (3) which eliminates the concern of diseases as sufficient cause for confinement of poultry.  This nation just endured in 2015 the most severe animal disease when nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys were destroyed to avian influenza (AI).  Rigid biosecurity efforts have been incorporated into egg production practices, but the concern remains for the spread of poultry diseases such as Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease. Administratively dismissing the great concern for the spread of poultry diseases is irresponsible and should be eliminated from this proposed rule.


This proposed amendment § 205.241 (c) (3) specify no more than 2.25 pounds of poultry per square foot of outdoor space (2 square feet for an adult hen) should also be removed from the proposed rule.  To allow outdoor access for organic poultry jeopardizes the existence of commercial poultry industries including the members of the National Association of Egg Farmers.

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