Article Submitted to UK's Guardian Newspaper on Animal Welfare Claims
Enjoy Those Eggs From Cage Layers. They Are the Safest, Most Wholesome, Most Affordable and Most Humane Protein Source
By Ken Klippen, National Association of Egg Farmers, Washington, DC
When labels are attached to modern farming practices such as “medieval cruelty” or “moral responsibility to act by avoiding cage eggs” as occurred on 30 August in Chris Rodley’s editorial, “Eating Brunch Right Now, You Might Want to Put Your Fork Down” it’s time to evoke the comments from The Guardian Editor in 1921, C.P. Scott who stated “But facts are sacred”. Mr. Rodley’s claims are devoid of facts. In my forty years of professional study and experience in the egg industry and having traveled to six continents to give speeches on animal welfare and view poultry production in other lands, these are the facts: Chickens in conventional cages have significantly better livability than free-range chickens. Chickens in conventional cages produce more eggs, larger eggs, better grade eggs, and waste less feed than free-range 1. Moving from a conventional cage to a non-cage system increases the likelihood of microbiological contamination of internal contents with Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis or other pathogens, or chemical contamination with dioxins in the soil, pesticides, or heavy metals 2. Eggs from caged facilities have a 25 per cent smaller carbon footprint (2.2 kg of carbon equivalent per kilo of eggs compared to 2.75 kg of CO2e per kilo of eggs for free-range 3. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of animal welfare specialists in the United States who know and understand poultry production, recently reviewed 5 areas related to housing hens in addition to the welfare of the chicken and made observations for conventional cages, enriched cages, or aviary (cage-free) systems 4. Those areas are; 1) health and welfare, 2) environmental impact, 3) economics, 4) food safety, 5) worker health and safety.
- (1)Health, well-being
Hens in the aviary and enriched systems had a higher incidence of keel bone deviations and/or fractures than hens in the conventional system.
- (2)Environmental impact
Regarding indoor air quality, the Coalition of scientists stated daily mean ammonia concentrations were less than 15 parts per million in both conventional and enriched cage houses throughout the monitoring period, but higher ammonia concentrations in the aviary house exceeded 25 ppm. Further, particulate matter (PM) concentrations in the aviary house were roughly 8-10 times those in the conventional system.
Farm costs for eggs were highest for eggs produced in the aviary system, followed by those from enriched housing and then conventional housing. In total it was 36% more expensive to produce eggs in the aviary system than the conventional system, while the enriched system was 13% more expensive than conventional cages.
- (4)Food safety
The forage area of the aviary system and scratch pads of the enriched colonies had the highest levels of total aerobes and coliforms, while eggs from the aviary floor had the highest total aerobes and coliform levels.
- (5)Worker health, safety
Sampling from personal exposure monitors worn by workers while in the hen houses found that inhalable particle and PM 2.5 concentrations, as well as endotoxins, were significantly higher in the aviary system compared to those in the conventional and enriched systems, which were not statistically different from each other. Worker ergonomics were also considered, with a number of tasks standing out as possible risks. Gathering the eggs birds had laid on the floor in the aviary system was found to be another issue for worker ergonomics as it warranted extreme body positions, including squatting for an extended period of time. Crawling and lying on the floor to collect floor eggs also exposed employees to potential respiratory hazards.
Health and well-being of humans is a major concern in the United States. The 2008 recession here was followed by the largest social welfare program increase in the use of food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with nearly 48 million Americans or 15 per cent of the population receiving federal assistance help with their food purchases. The need has improved slightly, but still in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reporting on a study by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers showed healthy eating by adults declined by 15 per cent largely due to the intake of foods containing trans fats. This is not an issue in the consumption of high quality protein containing eggs and the 36 per cent increase to produce free-range eggs compared to conventional cage eggs will further drive consumers away from this healthy source of protein.
Lastly, I wonder if Mr. Rodley has ever visited Pace Farms, the Australian egg farmer vilified in his 30 August article. I have known Frank Pace for years and have visited egg farms and egg farmers in Australia to see firsthand the quality of the production practices. Anyone can take a picture of isolated incidents such as the ones used to vilify Pace Farms and claim this is the norm. We could take pictures of homeless people in Mr. Rodley’s country and claim this is how people live and eat there, but that would not be factual. Isolated pictures do not tell the story. Facts do and hopefully C.P. Scott’s words in 1921 for The Guardian will prevail “But facts are sacred”.
Ken Klippen is the President of the National Association of Egg Farmers in the United States. He is the former Vice President and Executive Director of Government Relations for United Egg Producers and United Egg Association in Washington, DC and the former Director General of the International Egg Association in London, England. He has a Bachelor and Master of Science in Poultry Science and in 2008 started studies as a Ph.D. candidate in Animal Science with a special emphasis in animal welfare.
1 Anderson, Kenneth, NC State University, 2010
2 Holt, Peter, USDA/ARS Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, Athens, GA
3 de Boer, Impke, Wageningen University, Netherlands, 2010