The new year brings with it a number of challenges for U.S. egg producers. Proposition 2 and its associated rules and legislation go into effect on January 1, grain prices are back to more historically “normal” levels, and domestic demand for eggs seems to be on the rise. Initially, Proposition 2 will likely cause a little market shock as supply, demand and price adjustments, both in the California egg market and in the other 49 states. Longer term, the question of what type of housing for layers is going to be preferred or acceptable to egg consumers and society at large will need to be answered.
I have three resolutions that I would like for egg producers to make and follow up on in 2015 as the U.S. industry tries to find its way to a future which almost certainly will look a good bit different in terms of how hens are housed than it does today:
- Commit to total transparency at layer operations. This means being ready for visitors every day of the year, regardless of whether they come. I have managed at poultry plants that successfully took this approach to ensure compliance with quality/food safety standards. It starts at the top of the organization, set the expectation that things have to be right, all the time, or else someone should be working to fix the problem. Nothing gets put off until later. Get outside eyes in to look at your operations and let you know how others are correcting for issues like excessive dust, controlling pests, etc.
- Commit to engaging all stakeholders to come up with agreed-upon standards for housing hens in enriched colony cages and aviaries which are acceptable in all 50 states that preserve the right to keep hens indoors and in enclosures, i.e., colonies and aviaries, even if it means eventually phasing out so-called “conventional” or “battery” cages. I fear that housing hens at lower cage densities, 116 square inches or more to meet Proposition 2 standards, isn’t going to be a positive step for bird welfare. The enrichments, perches, nest box and scratch area aren’t just for show; they serve a purpose and have a positive impact on bird welfare. It seems to be inevitable that hens will be given more space; enrichments will keep this move a positive one for the birds and egg producers.
- Commit to housing layers that produce eggs destined for egg products in the same manner as hens which produce table eggs. It doesn’t make any sense to have different standards for hens that produce eggs for breakers; the standards should be the same regardless of whether the eggs are sold in the shell or get broken.