In a nationwide movement, egg producers have upped their production of cage-free eggs. This dramatic switch for the egg industry to go with free-range hens is one of the biggest moves to hit the United States agriculture industry. Yet despite a growing consumer demand, Americans aren’t buying free-caged eggs in the grocery store.
The switch from battery to cage-free eggs has left the market with an overwhelming amount of egg cartons that consumers aren’t choosing to buy. Egg prices are lower for battery eggs and consumers are choosing that over eggs laid by cage-free birds. Battery cage systems lead to an egg production efficiency that results in cheaper prices for the consumer.
What about free-range eggs? COLD HARD FACTS: 1. "Free-Range" hens come from the same hatcheries that battery hens come from. 2. All of their brothers are killed by suffocation or being ground up alive, just like battery hens. 3. The girls themselves endure the same debeaking and body manipulations as battery hens. 4. Egg famers intentionally starve "free-range" hens to shock them into laying, just like with battery hens. 5. "Free-range" hens live in mechanical sheds with 5,000 to 8,000 other hens. This gives each hen the room of an A4 paper. Just like battery hens. 6. 70% of "free-range" hens do not get to see the sun in their lifetime. 7. "Free-range" hens are too battered to keep on laying at around one year old and are slaughtered, just like battery hens. 8. In the end they ALL ultimately end up at the same slaughterhouses as battery hens when their "production" declines. Sound like a happy, natural life to you? So battery eggs or free-range eggs? It is like asking if strangulation is better than suffocation. Neither is an acceptable option. There is simply NO way to humanely produce eggs for human consumption.
Unfortunately, these battery cages lead to egg-laying hens living in miserable conditions where most don’t have room to spread their wings. The Humane Society of the United States reports that each battery hen has less than “a single sheet of letter-sized paper” to live which denies them the space of natural behavior including “nesting, perching, and dustbathing.” These natural instincts are vital to the general welfare of the hens.
The demand by consumers for animal rights and overall hen welfare has lead retailers to make the drastic switch. According to Forbes, major retailers like “McDonald’s, Disney, Kroger, Campbell Soup, Walmart, ConAgra, Starbucks and even White Castle have announced that they will shift to cage-free eggs, most by the year 2025.” Sadly, the lack of purchase by the vast majority of consumers means battery eggs still have the upper hand in the industry.
In order to get cage-free egg production back to a healthy supply and demand level, eggs producers are having to reduce their number of hens. Buzzfeed reported that 6 to 8 million hens from Cal Maine – the largest egg producer in the US – will be put out of commission to get back on track. The promise by manufacturers and retailers to make the change to cage-free without the results expected have led to a decreased demand for free hens.
What does this mean for the future of cage-free production? It looks as though they will be at a loss. Unless the dollars meet the demand, it seems that cage-free production will decrease.