Legislation to ban the use of cages in Germany took effect in 2009, three years before the cage ban in the rest of the EU. German law also mandated that enriched cages or colonies allow more space per hen than what is required in the rest of the EU. In spite of this, animal rights groups successfully pressured German retailers to agree to not sell any cage-produced eggs, even those from enriched colony housing. It only took a few years for activists to force a transition of hens out of cages. Hens in Germany are almost completely cage free, and the remaining enriched colonies are likely to be gone soon.
Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Windhorst, statistical analyst, International Egg Commission, speaking at the Future of the Egg Industry Conference held in conjunction with International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, said that in a survey, 60 percent of German consumers (who can no longer purchase eggs from cage-housed hens) reported that they would buy eggs from cage-housed hens if they were available in the store. Windhorst said that in his opinion if enriched colony housing systems had been available in the late 1990s, the EU directive regarding the keeping of laying hens would have been written differently. He also said that for countries like the U.S. that have not already banned cages or had retailers boycott eggs from them, “I assume that the enriched aviary will become the standard housing system for laying hens in future.”
Most consumers don’t understand modern poultry production practices, and they seem to be easily swayed by negative public relations campaigns from animal activist groups. The best way for the layer industry to combat these tactics is with transparency. The industry needs to keep its house in order every single day and let the public see how eggs are produced. The Good Egg Project by the American Egg Board is a step in the right direction, but every producer needs to be transparent like JS West and their live hen cams.
The U.S. egg industry has a tremendous story to tell. With the additional measures that have been taken to keep birds free from Salmonella, farms have fewer pests than ever before. The transition from high-rise houses to enriched colony housing with manure belts will provide the best possible environment for hens. The egg industry shouldn’t be afraid of cameras. If your farms aren’t ready for the public to see, then you have work to do. Keeping the doors closed won’t work; the industry needs to be ready for company every day.