Recently, National Association of Egg Farmers spent a day defending conventional cage systems before a committee assigned by the state legislature (name withheld) to consider a proposal by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a bill to ban all caged layers in the state.
The egg farmer, who is a member of NAEF, asked for support and to present the science behind conventional caged systems. While the committee listened and watched the NAEF power point presentation, also in attendance were two members of ASPCA along with Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary, formerly with PETA. You may recall that Bruce Friedrich wrote the Op-Ed article in this week’s LA Times that NAEF offered the rebuttal relating to California’s Prop 2 and the Missouri Attorney General’s lawsuit to the California egg law.
The proposal by ASPCA, now a bill, calls for the prohibition of caged layers and the implementation of the UEP cage-free guidelines of 1-1.5 sq. ft of floor space per chicken.
In the ASPCA presentation, they cited the UEP scientific committee recommendations along with the comments of researchers Dr. Bernard Rollin at Colorado State University and Dr. Ian Duncan at the University of Guelph. Both scientists addressed the inability of chickens to perform particular behaviors such as perching and dust bathing, even stretching their limbs. ASPCA hammered on the osteoporosis in spent hens as demonstrating the poor treatment given to them in caged facilities. NAEF started the power point with quotations by animal activists including Bruce Friedrich showing their intentions are to eliminate meat, milk and eggs from consumers diets.
NAEF countered ASPCA with more current research published at the time of the California egg law showing caged layers produced more eggs, more grade A eggs, larger eggs, better feed conversion, higher antibody levels to protect against diseases, and lower mortality levels, all indicators of better health and welfare. “Certainly mortality should be a determining factor for welfare, and if the mortality is lower in conventional cages it signals better conditions for the layers” stated NAEF.
Dr. Peter Holt, USDA/ARS Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit in Athens, GA was also cited by NAEF showing concern for greater microbial contamination in systems other than the conventional cage systems. When the question arose if this applied to the enhanced colony cage, NAEF stated the exposure of eggs to manure in the colony cage system when they are laid in the scratch areas or nest boxes contaminated with fecal matter. Furthermore, NAEF cited the initial study results from the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply showing an increased incidence of wing and leg fractures in the enhanced colony cage. When asked how this could happen, NAEF suggested that the greater space meant more opportunity for piling of the chickens and perhaps running into the perches. This is not the case in conventional cage systems. NAEF spelled out the original 5 Freedoms in the Brambel Report dating back decades and how the modern cage system did respond to the welfare considerations of that welfare report. NAEF also outlined the experience in the European Union with the implementation of their enhanced colony cage law on January 1, 2012 with the egg shortages and spikes in egg prices.
The debate then moved onto the lawsuit filed by the Missouri Attorney General against the California egg law. While the activists cited the rulings coming from California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the precedence they set, NAEF centered its position on the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 which clearly states Congress has the authority to regulate commerce among the states and that Article X grants states’ rights not already delegated to the United States by the Constitution. In other words, the Constitution addressed the commerce clause in the first article and states’ rights afterwards.
After 2 hours, the committee adjourned without making a decision on the ASPCA recommendations and asked for written statements from NAEF and ASPCA on the science they provided. NAEF provided the documents immediately.
There are two takeaways from this experience; 1) National Association of Egg Farmers must be willing to speak up in defense of their production systems or else committees such as this will abide by the agenda of the animal activists, and 2) NAEF demonstrated an effective voice in defending caged layer systems, suggesting it’s better to fight for your rights than to compromise with activists that want to put you out of business altogether.