| By Sam Oches

The Cage-Free Debate

An exclusive interview with the United Egg Producers sheds light on the other side of the cage-free debate.

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The white jumpsuit and plastic boots I'm wearing might imply that I'm heading into a Roswell, New Mexico, facility rather than a barn full of hens on an egg farm just north of Denver, Colorado. The protective covering I've donned before heading into the barn isn't for my sake, of course, it's for the protection of the birds.

But Morning Fresh Farms in Platteville, Colorado, might have more to fear than just disease that can be carried in by humans. The farm now has the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to fear.

The HSUS is pushing to reform the egg industry in favor of animal welfare and is encouraging legislation across the country that requires all hens to be free of battery cages. The organization already claimed victory in California, where November's passing of Proposition 2 requires all farms to allow hens the ability to lie down, stand up, and fully extend their wings without touching another bird or the cage by 2015.

However, according to the United Egg Producers, the switch to a cage-free standard could cripple the industry, and in turn affect the entire U.S. agriculture industry.

"Everybody wants to go back to cage free," says Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, referring to the days before the 1960s when all hens were cage free. "But the market won't buy enough to support it."

A study conducted by Promar International suggests the switch to a cage-free egg standard could significantly raise the price of eggs in the U.S. due to facility adjustments and higher production costs. The study, to be released October 6, examined the potential affect of Proposition 2 in California and translated it to the entire country.

"We came to the conclusion that passage of [Proposition 2] would virtually eliminate egg production in California," says Tom Earley, executive vice president of Promar International.

The foodservice industry accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. egg consumption, according to Promar International. The HSUS has already pressured quick-serve chains such as Wendy's, Burger King, and Quiznos to switch to partial use of cage-free eggs, and has recently issued statements against IHOP's use of caged eggs.

At Morning Fresh Farms, where 150,000 of the 1.25 million chickens are cage free and live in special aviary systems that were designed in Germany, production of both caged and cage-free eggs continues normally. The decision of which egg is right, says farm president Derek Yancey, does not lie with the farm.

"We wanted the consumers to have the choice of what they want," he says.


The cheapest eggs I can buy are the ones I buy from a small, local independent, free range farmer. What this guy really means is big CORPORATE farmers cannot make money this way, corporate farms will go out of business and in their place lots of little mom and pop chicken and egg farms will replace them. The little guys can make money and can sell them cheaper than Krogers or any big grocer. A win for the little guy.

The scenario you paint is accurate to a point. There's an important misperception, however. Small farmers tend to underprice their eggs, for a number of reasons. Anyone who raises better quality chickens, laying higher quality eggs should be charging for them. It's just not an economically viable choice to do otherwise.And if someone is raising free-range chickens on organic feed, without soy, they need to be charging quite a bit more for their eggs. Nothing wrong with this. We should be paying more for quality eggs. The cheap cost of meat, chicken, and eggs in this country is a direct reflection of government subsidies and not-worth-eating quality. We're going to have to ante up in the US, folks.People who value their health will pay for quality foods, if they're given the option. The government seems bent on removing that option.

I can only speak from experience. The cost of feed for a dozen hens is far more than the price of eggs in the store. Then they quit laying every time the weather changes. You may get eggs for 6 months out of the year. Then when everything seems to be going well, predators break in and wipe you out in one night! Don't count on me to produce eggs for you!!!

It's funny because people will spend a dollar on a soda but they don't want to spend more than a few dollars for a dozen of quality cage free eggs. BTW the natural diet for a hen is insects so if they are really free roaming you don't have to worry about the "bugs eating their grain" that is their natural diet.

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