I asked a number of United States egg producers what they thought lies ahead for the industry based on the now very likely scenario that the Egg Bill will not be passed by Congress. A summary of some of the responses I received to this basic question is found in this issue (see If the Egg Bill isn’t passed, what’s next for US egg producers?). When asked about the possibility that a move out of conventional cages in the U.S. might eventually lead to a totally cage-free industry in this country, one producer gave me a response that I heartily agree with: "We have done something horribly wrong if we let the country become totally cage free.”
If you couple the bird health and welfare advantages of enriched cages along with the efficiency and resource use advantages over cage free, it is hard to argue that a totally cage-free U.S. egg industry is best for the hens, egg producers or for society as a whole. The industry has championed enriched cages as being better than conventional cages because of the bird welfare advantages that they provide. Now it is up to the industry to figure out a way to transition to enriched cages, even without federal legislation. If U.S. egg producers want to preserve the right to use cages, then doing nothing isn’t an option. Doing nothing could ultimately lead to a cage-free industry.
There are a couple silver linings for the industry if the Egg Bill not adopted. There is now time for science, rather than negotiations with the Humane Society of the United States, to inform egg producers’ choices as to what amount of space is best for hens in enriched cages. Finally, if egg producers work to build a customer base for eggs from hens housed in enriched enclosures, then perhaps the market will determine where its eggs come from, not activists.