NAEF Corrects NYTimes Op-Ed on California Egg Law

The Op-Ed by Mark Bittman in The New York Times [“Hens Unbounded, Dec. 31] misleads readers into thinking the new California egg law is good for chickens as well as Californians. Speaking on behalf of the National Association of Egg Farmers and farmers outside of California providing the majority of the eggs consumed in California, the “wake-up call” for consumers on January 1st has already left them scrambling for explanations.  Egg prices have risen more than 100% in California between January and December 2014 in anticipation of this new law. This will continue as it did in Europe when they enacted their new law January 1, 2012.  Where Mr. Bittman is mistaken, is thinking this will lead to better welfare for the hens.  The incidence of bones broken in the colony cages [proposed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture] have been noted by scientists were greater than conventional systems.  This is because of the larger running areas coupled with the additional features in the cages (nest boxes, scratch pads, perches) where chickens can be injured when frightened. Added to this is the increased incidence of pecking that will take place when more chickens are in larger groupings.  Hardly welfare enhancements when bones are broken or chickens pecked.  The food safety component is also a mistaken thought.  The colony cages have been shown to have higher levels of pathogenic bacterial. This was reported in the journal Food Control of this year “Microbiological Contamination of Shell Eggs Produced in Conventional and Free-Range Systems.”  This scientific report noted that chickens in conventional cages on wire slats allow feces to fall through to the floor below whereas free-range with nest boxes [also available in the California-style of cage] have fecal matter in them contaminating the egg shells with bacteria.   While we do not expect any of this to sway Mr. Bittman nor Paul Shapiro, HSUS, quoted in the article, we are hopeful that readers will consider these explanations for conventional production methods in egg production today in producing a safe, wholesome egg while caring for the needs of the chicken based on available science.