by Theodora Filis
Written for UK Progressive Magazine
More than 95% of eggs sold in the US come from birds confined in wire battery cages so small that they can barely move.
Last week’s Green Matters column touched upon the more than half a billion eggs that were recalled in August over concerns they were contaminated with Salmonella. One reader commented: “The United Egg Producers is a lobby group with a sordid history on animal cruelty and consumer deception.” It encouraged me to find out more…
The United Egg Producer‘s website states:
Egg farmers sincerely care about the welfare of their chickens and completely understand that poor husbandry practices will result in higher mortality and fewer eggs.
However, with fewer people having an understanding or relationship with farming and a growing public discussion about the well being of laying hens, the industry’s trade association, United Egg Producers (UEP) began to question whether there was a need for an independent review of our industry production practices.
To achieve an independent assessment of U.S. egg farming, UEP established a mission, which included: (1) A scientific approach to animal welfare guidelines; (2) guidelines that are driven by the industry rather than government mandates or legislation; (3) guidelines that created a level playing field for both egg farmers and our customers.”
Weeks after the FDA tightened safety rules for egg producers, inspectors found that 2 Iowa egg farms linked to the salmonella outbreak failed to follow their own safety plans, allowing rodents and other animals into poultry houses. During inspections conducted on August 19-26, officials found rodent holes and leaking manure at several locations run by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, and non-chicken feathers and live mice and flies at houses owned by Wright County Egg, according to reports posted on the FDA website.
The UEP says there is no difference in safety between eggs produced by caged or free-range hens. The cooperative-style organization, based in Alpharetta, Ga., represents companies that provide about 85% of the 80 billion eggs produced in the United States each year.
Group spokesman Mitch Head said measures to limit or outlaw the use of battery cages are based on emotions and flawed readings of scientific evidence. He warned that banning such cages altogether would lead to a 25% increase in egg prices, or about 25 cents per dozen at the current Grade A retail average.
We would prefer that this be worked out through the marketplace and based on science,” Head said. “Instead, it’s become a political and ballot-box issue. That makes us concerned.”
In California, the egg industry and other agribusiness groups spent nearly $9 million in an attempt to head off that state’s animal-welfare initiative, which requires that egg-laying hens, veal calves and pregnant sows be able to “lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely” while in confinement. In July, the restrictions were extended to producers of all whole eggs sold in the state, although there is disagreement about whether larger cages would be allowed.
The United Egg Association PAC, the industry’s main political action committee, has donated about $1.1 million to members of Congress during the past decade, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group.
In California, new legislation spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States will eliminate the use of conventional battery cages starting in 2015.
Michigan has also adopted cage limits, which will take effect in 2019, while less-stringent regulations have been approved in several other states.
Ohio announced an agreement between animal rights activists and industry groups last month that will bar new battery-cage facilities but exempt current operators.
The eggs recalled in connection with the salmonella contamination came from hens housed in industrial-style “battery cages,” in which birds are crammed against one another in a long battery of wire enclosures. These cages are common throughout the industry but have been increasingly targeted by animal welfare groups as inhumane and unsanitary.