NAEF Response to Dunkin' Donuts Decision to Buy "Cage-Free" Eggs

Dear Angela Chen,


We read with interest your article in today’s entitled “Dunkin’ Donuts Considers All Cage-Free Eggs.”


While Dunkin’ Donuts and your readers may conclude this move by a nationwide chain is aimed at improving the welfare of egg-laying chickens, the opposite is true.  Unfortunately some state legislators, including those in California that recently imposed new production standards on all eggs sold in that state, have embraced the false impression that conventional cages where 95% of the nation is currently producing eggs, somehow prevents the chicken from “standing up, lying down, turning around, and spreading its limbs.” 


So here are the facts for your readers and any other companies considering sourcing their egg needs from today’s farmers.  Every egg farmer knows that increasing the population size of a flock of chickens increases the stress on those 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 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 60 chickens in the California-style enhanced, colony cages, and even more so in an aviary (cage-free chickens) in a house with thousands of chickens.  The National Association of Egg Farmers is trying to educate consumers to this fact.  


Added to the pecking taking place, eggs laid on the floor in an aviary system have more pathogenic bacteria from contact with manure.  This is virtually eliminated in conventional cages where the birds stand on a wire and the manure falls below the cages and away from the eggs. 


Some eggs farmers, and those in California especially, are hopeful that changing to enhanced colony cages will obviate the objections by ones falsely claiming welfare considerations.  The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of scientists who spent two years studying the implications of different housing systems also noted more keel bone (breast bone) deviations and broken bones in these enhanced cages compared to conventional cages.  In addition, the scratch pads and nest boxes in these enhanced colony cages had manure accumulating on them which contributed to more bacteria than the conventional cages.


Over the past five decades of improving the welfare of the chicken and improving the food safety of shell eggs with today’s conventional cages, unfortunately companies and misinformed readers believe it is better to return to the old days when eggs were laid near manure or the chicken suffered from the pecking order. This is false and harms both the chicken and the consumer.