It looks like egg farmers are finally getting the message that consumers don’t want eggs from hens kept in crowded, cruel battery cages.
Their apparent conversion to the concept of cage-free egg production emerged in recent local media reports. One farmer told the Abbotsford News: “I realized that’s the way of the future so I needed to personally change to meet the needs of our customers.”
His views were echoed by Brad Bond, chairman of the BC Egg Marketing Board, who told the Vancouver Sun: “This trend is going to continue and we are well-positioned to meet the demand… We know that animal welfare is top of mind for the hospitality industry and consumers alike.”
This welcome change comes after years of pressure by animal welfare groups that has educated consumers and retailers about the inherent cruelty of battery cages. The recent decision by MacDonald’s Restaurants to phase out the use of eggs from caged hens may be the nail in the coffin for battery systems. This follows similar decisions by big food companies such as Starbucks, General Mills, Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group.
Here in British Columbia, VHS has led the fight against battery cages with our ChickenOUT! campaign – and we know it’s had an impact. It’s no accident that in B.C. nearly 17 per cent of eggs come from cage-free systems, compared to about three per cent in the rest of Canada.
But with more than 90 per cent of Canada’s eggs still coming from caged hens, there is a long way to go. And there are many problems to overcome. Some farmers may switch to “enriched cages,” which provide a bit more space but still deny vital natural behaviours. Others may only go as far as switching to free-run or free-range, without moving to certified organic production, which has the highest welfare standards and is inspected by independent, third-party auditors to ensure operations are truly free-range.
VHS executive director Debra Probert expressed such concerns to the Vancouver Sun: “It’s a progressive move and those birds will be out of cages, but the public should know this is not the highest welfare system for laying hens…It remains to be seen how this free-run industry will function.” Nevertheless, the direction away from cages is clear.
While VHS welcomes the reduction in animal suffering that comes with the elimination of battery cages, we are well aware that the egg industry will still have inherent welfare problems, such as the killing of unwanted male chicks and inhumane transportation and slaughter, which all chickens endure.
That’s why VHS urges consumers to try making the switch to a plant-based diet. Reducing or eliminating eggs from your diet are the best ways to help end the suffering of laying hens. The good news is that new alternatives to eggs and egg products are emerging.
While victory over battery cage operations cannot yet be declared, their end is in sight. Perhaps more importantly, the campaigns against them have shown that educating consumers and pressuring producers and retailers does work. This bodes well for the fight against other cruel factory farm practices. VHS is committed to being a part of that fight. We hope you will join us.