Animal welfare legislation enacted from Europe to California tends to address the housing requirements for hens producing eggs sold with the shell still on. With full Proposition 2 implementation less than two months away, all of the interest is focused on how many hens housed at 116 square inches per bird it will take to supply California’s shell egg needs. But left unmentioned is the number of hens needed to provide for the egg products needs of the state and how many inches of floor space these birds are given. The space requirements for hens housed specifically to produce eggs for breaking are seldom mentioned, even though around one-third of all the eggs consumed in the U.S. every year come from egg products.

The UEP-certified program calls for hens housed in conventional cages to be given at least 67 square inches of floor space per bird. Most inline egg breaking operations don’t participate in the UEP-certified program and they generally house hens at around 50 square inches per bird.

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Nestle, one of the world’s largest food processing companies, has identified “cage systems,” “particularly barren battery cages,” for attention in its efforts to ensure that animal welfare is improved and enhanced across its global supply chain. Chick-fil-A’s announcement that it would only serve chicken that was raised without antibiotics by 2019 sent shock waves through the U.S. broiler industry, because this quick service restaurant chain was seen as a large mainstream customer. Could Nestle’s announcement have the same kind of impact on the layer industry?

Layers housed on inline breaking farms have the exact same welfare needs as hens housed to produce shell eggs for retail or foodservice use, but some U.S. egg producers are acting as though hens producing eggs destined for use in egg products have different space needs. This is an indefensible position for the industry to take, and it needs to change. Do egg processors really want other large customers like Nestle, who has partnered with World Animal Protection, to come up with their own welfare standards?