Welfare challenges are impacting egg producers to varying degrees around the world. However, lessons learned from the European ban on conventional cages are at least offering producers from other regions some tools to cope with demands for higher welfare.
Professor Hans-Wilhelm Windhorst, speaking at the International Egg Commission Annual Marketing and Production Conference, gave an overview of the issues facing a number of countries and detailed from where calls for change are coming.
He said that in Germany, it had been hoped that following the conventional cage ban there would be a period of calm following the switch over; however, pressure on the industry did not abate, and beak trimming and the issue of make chicks are now on the agenda. In the UK, beak trimming is due to come into place in 2016. Additionally, wider Europe has found itself with a variety of systems in place, in part given that some EU producers are still planning to totally do away with conventional cages, while producers in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, for example, are investing heavily in egg production but using conventional cages.
In the U.S., cages will be banned from 2015 in California and, depending on the passage of legislation currently under consideration, throughout the country by 2030. In Canada, the issue of conventional cages is still not greatly discussed, and animal welfare groups have a limited impact on the industry. However, alternative housing systems are being looked at and research into cost and the Canadian context being carried out. Any change will be long-term, and will be influenced by what happens in the U.S.
In China, and Asia as a whole, the ban on cages does not really form part of discussion. The topic could emerge over the next couple of decades, but it may never hit the local agenda. In Taiwan, however, the issue of cages is under discussion, and conventional cages could be banned within the next five to 10 years. The impetus for this is coming not only from animal rights groups, but also from the retail sector and quick service restaurants. Malaysia is not looking at cages, but the country does have beak trimming under examination as well as electrical stunning. In India, the issue is not being discussed at present but it could become more important within the next 10 years, particularly as the country becomes wealthier and adopts more middle class concerns. The drivers for change will be not only animal rights groups but also quick service restaurant chains.
The banning of cages is being discussed in Australia, and driving forces include the country’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and animal protection organization Animals Australia. Discussions are expected to accelerate. In New Zealand, a welfare code is being discussed for the use of enriched cages. This is very detailed and a transition timetable will be drawn up once the code is finalized.
Some parts of North Africa are considering converting to a European system for egg production. This is not in response to pressure from animal rights groups, but purely in response to commercial opportunities, with producers hoping to gain access to the lucrative European market.