This edition of Egg Industry is devoted to the poorly defined concept of “welfare.” The term has a different meaning depending on the perceptions and outlook of the observer. Those applying an anthropomorphic approach condemn in the most extreme terms any form of confinement and regard intensive production of food as “exploitation.” The more reasonable among us consider laying hens to be worthy of protection from neglect and cruelty and to be provided with housing that is based on sound scientific and financial principles.

Changes in consumer perceptions, whether real or perceived, are influencing legislatures, regulators and the major food distribution chains. The awareness of “welfare” as a marketing reality has been recognized by the American Humane Association, which has established reasonable standards for housing and management. This contrasts with extremist groups such as PETA and the HSUS, which have as their objective the imposition of a vegan lifestyle on our population. Their activities deprive consumers of choice while deceiving their supporters as to their concern for livestock and companion animals in their fundraising activities.

As with any major influence on production efficiency and profitability, the egg industry will collectively adapt to the operating and regulatory environment and apply technology to resolve problems. Although additional costs will be imposed by adoption of innovations such as enriched caged systems or more extensive use floor housing, the demand for eggs in both shell and liquid form will continue. This opinion is based on the inherent nutritional quality of our product in relation to other sources of protein.

It is hoped that the program to evaluate alternative housing systems at Michigan State University, initiated by Dr. Jeff Armstrong, will become a reality despite his move to California. The industry needs valid U.S. scientific data to counter emotion and unrealistic demands made by extremist groups that influence consumers and legislators.