National Egg Farmers Testify Before Rhode Island Legislators on Cage-Free Chickens Bill
Rhode Island House Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Consideration of H 7456 Relating to Animals and Animal Husbandry –Unlawful Confinement of a Covered Animal (Egg Laying Chickens)
Testimony by Ken Klippen, President, National Association of Egg Farmers
April 5, 2018
Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening in opposing H 7456 for two reasons; food safety and animal welfare. While the bill addresses unlawful confinement, it also mandates that chickens producing eggs have floor space consistent with the 2016 United Egg Producers Guidelines for Cage-Free Production.
The US Animal Health Association October 17, 2017 Report stated: “Ascarids (round worms) are increasingly being found in cage-free operations with the concern being the possibility of a consumer finding an egg with a roundworm contained inside. Most all cage-free egg producers have had such an occurrence.” Below is a picture showing round worms in the internal organ of an egg laying chicken as well as in an egg itself. Chickens pick up roundworms when they come into contact with infected feces on the ground.
In the Journal Food Control published a study June 17, 2014 entitled "Microbiological Contamination of Shell Eggs Produced in Conventional and Free-Range Housing Systems" The conclusions show why cages became the preferred method of producing eggs. "Battery caged hens (conventional cages) are standing on wire slats that allow feces to fall to a manure collection system beneath the hens. Conversely, free-range hens (cage-free) laid their eggs in nest boxes on shavings and the eggs remained in contact with hens, shavings and fecal material until they are collected. The longer contact time with free-range hens, shavings and feces would explain the higher enterobacteriaceae counts (pathogenic bacteria) on free-range eggs as compared to battery caged eggs."
Penn State researchers in September 2016 published their research findings that eggs from small flocks of chickens are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis as eggs sold in grocery stores, which typically come from larger flocks of caged layers.
Cage-free increases the stress on chickens due to the establishment of a “pecking order” among the chickens. This behavior is to determine the social standing of the individual hens through “pecking” each other. The individual chicken 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 thousands of chickens in a cage-free environment. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a two-year study of different production systems, did not conclude that cage-free was the optimum system, but instead noted the mortality is nearly double that of caged systems.
The type of system proposed in the legislation will lead to more broken breast bones. Keel (breast) bone breakage reported highest in the aviary (cage-free) system over conventional cages. A clear indication that cage-free systems are not more humane than conventional cages. Dr. Maja Makagon, Assistant Professor of Applied Animal Behavior at University of California, Davis’ Department of Animal Science, reported the increased bone breakage from collisions with perches in cage-free systems.
Dr. Ivan Alvarado, DVM with Merck Global Business delivered an interesting presentation at the Minneapolis Convention Center on March 14, 2018 discussing external parasites in cage-free farms. 83% of European cage-free egg farms are already infested with poultry red mites. This harmful mite is extremely costly to the poultry industry with annual European industry losses at EUR360 million (US$446.54 million). Red mites are not a problem in conventional cages. All 27 member nations in the EU are about 40% cage-free compared to 16% in the U.S. Dr. Alvarado said an effective drug for Red Mites is Fluranaler and is in use in the EU. It has not yet received approval in the U.S. Subjecting poultry to parasites without the benefit of approved medication is inhumane.
It is for these reasons we are opposed to H 7456 which mandates all eggs sold come from these cage-free systems of production.