A Lesson In Non-Sustainability from Ringling Bros. and Barnums & Bailey Circus


The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently told The Associated Press that the circus will close forever in May. This ends 146 years of "The Greatest Show on Earth." The executives at Feld Entertainment cited several factors said the decision including animal welfare activists, declining attendance, and high operating costs.  Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey commented (Wall Street Journal Jan. 17, 2017) that when they stopped using elephants in 2016 the resulting decline in attendance was more than they anticipated.  The circus was no longer sustainable.  


Sea World's Orlando, Florida announced they were ending their Orca whale performances in March 2016.    Janet Davis, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin and expert on popular culture, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and this campaign against Sea World said "They see this as an opening to call for more dramatic changes. PETA and other groups are not going to stop".  Will Sea World remain sustainable when their most popular entertainment comes to an end? 


That brings us to cage-free chickens.  Already we read of activists claiming cage-free is not cruelty-free, and so chickens must have access to pasture.  Despite what some egg farmers say is the "future"  and favor a mutual compromise with the activists, poultry scientists from around the world have commented about removing cages altogether.  The following comments appeared on LinkedIn under Poultry Science where more than 7,300 scientists worldwide participate including NAEF's Ken Klippen who has two degrees in Poultry Science.


Marcelo Lang Director, Global Poultry Brands at Elanco reported that free-range chickens are more exposed to infectious diseases. He asks "Is anybody surprised that with the removal of modern commercial poultry management practices, old diseases that had almost disappeared have made a comeback? Old bird diseases occur more among free-range hens Over the last two decades old bird diseases, such as Coryza, Blackhead and Pasteurelle multocida increasingly reared their ugly heads among free-range hens. These diseases barely occurred when laying hens were kept in cages".


Johanes Berchmans said "I think old disease remain in the field and wait the right moment to show up".  Marcelo Lang responded to Berchman's comments saying "and the right moment is when producers abandon proven bio security measures in favor of ill-informed, "feel good " ones that do more harm than good 


Grant Mc Ewan stated "I think the bigger problem is we have changed genetics so much that if you move back to an old system these diseases show up again".


Enrique Coelho Brugnara said "In my opinion the key point for the reintroduction of old diseases is the lack of environment control, is not that easy to eliminate parasites in the soil. In addition, free-range chickens live more time and are more prone to infections over time. 


Dr.Abdul Ghayas stated "The diversity of infectious agent is an important factor, most of the time not considered by farmers. It is the major threat for free-range indigenous poultry:.


Ken Klippen has published numerous articles showing cage-free is not an improvement over the modern, conventional cages as it relates to chicken welfare, egg quality, the ergonomic challenges posed on farmers picking up eggs off the ground, and ultimately the consumer who will be paying more.  Cage-free eggs average about $1- 2 more per dozen than conventional cages, whereas free-range eggs are being offered on Amazon at $105 for 15 dozen ($7 per dozen eggs). 


Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus discovered changes in their business practice was not sustainable. Sea World will likely discover the same with the end of their Orca whale performances.  Will consumers continue to purchase 20+ dozen eggs annually when prices are $3 or $7 per dozen? When the egg industry was dealing with bird flu in 2015 and prices hit $3 per dozen, we witnessed a 30% decline in demand in certain markets. The trend toward cage-less egg production will have farmers realizing that changes in their business practices are not sustainable for all egg farmers.