The United Egg Producers (UEP) accepted the recommendations of its independent scientific advisory committee when it set the housing standards for its UEP-certified animal welfare program. One of the standards in the UEP-Certified program was the that hens housed in cages be afforded a minimum of 67 square inches of floor space per bird.
Unfortunately, since UEP set these standard themselves for this voluntary program, it left egg producers open to spurious allegations that the space standard was set to restrict the supply of eggs and increase egg prices. These lawsuits have kept UEP from setting any space requirements for enriched colony housing. Believe it or not, I think keeping egg producers from setting their own density standards may wind up being a good thing.
In order for enriched housing standards to be accepted by consumers, egg producers are going to have more than just science on their side; they are going to need buy-in from some animal welfare proponents. Chad Gregory, president, UEP, told the audience at the UEP annual convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that he would like to see a new independent certifying body oversee the creation of enriched colony housing standards. He asked if the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) could become such an organization once its current research mission is completed early in 2015.
Standards set by a group like CSES would have a distinct advantage over standards set by UEP itself, because CSES includes egg producers, retail and foodservice companies, research institutions and the American Humane Association. Engaging organizations like American Humane -- which are trying ensure humane treatment for farm animals, not eliminate animal agriculture -- in the standard-setting process could go a long way to achieving consumer acceptance. It really doesn’t matter how many hens you decide can be placed in an enriched colony if consumers don’t believe that the welfare is equivalent to or better than cage–free, just ask egg producers in the U.K. and Germany if you don’t believe me.