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News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.

Food Safety and Processing Perspective

Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.

6th freedom is the real problem with cage-free hens

Animal welfare advocates espouse the five freedoms, but it is the sixth freedom that cage-free hens exercise that causes food safety concerns.
There are five freedoms that animal welfare advocates say need to be provided to animals; freedom from hunger and thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury or disease; from fear and distress; and to express normal behaviors. When housing laying hens cage-free, it is the freedom to express normal behaviors that leads to the most problems.
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Rapid broiler growth is sustainable and not inhumane

Wall Street Journal article on the slow-growing broiler market strikes out when it comes to economics.
I generally enjoy the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of agriculture and the poultry industry, but I was unpleasantly surprised by some things written in a recent article on the expanding market for “slow-growing” broilers.
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Cage-free purchase pledges not the egg buyers' fault

It has never been the primary responsibility of retailers and restaurant chains to explain and defend animal husbandry practices
The Egg Industry Center Issues Forum in Chicago April 20-21, brought together egg producers, trade association representatives, some researchers and even a few activists and representatives from McDonald's, and, as expected, the hot topic was cage-free egg purchase pledges. It isn't an exaggeration to say that the HSUS representative at the forum was the only person who was smiling throughout the two days of presentations and discussions.
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Iowa lab finds no SE-positive eggs in 4 years of tests

No egg samples submitted in past four years by egg producers for testing by the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State were contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis.
The largest egg recalls in U.S. history just happened to coincide with the implementation of the FDA’s Egg Safety rule in summer 2010. While many egg producers were already operating under state or voluntary Salmonella prevention programs prior to 2010, the nationwide implementation of FDA’s rule seems to have had a positive impact on Salmonella enteritidis (SE) incidence in layer houses and in eggs.
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How long will the US conversion to cage-free eggs take?

Even the popular press has done a good job explaining why converting to cage-free egg production won’t happen overnight, but I still get questions from doubters.
In January 2016, Wired Magazine did a pretty good job of explaining why a conversion of the U.S. egg industry from just over 90 percent cage-housed hens to 100 percent cage-free hens couldn’t happen overnight. Similar articles appeared in several other magazines and newspapers, but I still get inquiries asking why most major cage-free purchase pledges use 2025 as the end date.
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Does Walmart decision signal end for laying hen cages?

The cage-free purchase pledge by the largest grocer in the U.S. has provisions for respecting consumer preference and transparency.
Any major purchasing decision made by Walmart and Sam's Club, which sell over one quarter of the groceries purchased in the U.S., has major implications throughout the supply chain for any commodity, and eggs are no exception. The cage-free purchase pledge made by Walmart on April 6, 2016 establishes a goal of 100 percent cage-free egg purchases by 2025.
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3 things to consider when choosing a cage-free system

US egg producers have a lot of cage-free housing system options available for them to consider, and their choice should really hinge on their answers to three questions.
On my recent visit to the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, I had the opportunity to visit with 12 suppliers of housing systems for laying hens. After hearing about the various types of systems being offered and how they operate, I think there are three questions that U.S. egg producers should ask themselves before they decide which system to choose:
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Organic poultry production: The real omnivore’s dilemma

Vegetarian diets and restriction/elimination of the use of synthetic methionine may keep organic poultry meat and eggs a small niche market in the U.S.
The question of how to meet an omnivore's nutritional needs feeding an all vegetarian diet is a question that I don’t think we should have to answer. What are we really gaining by trying to feed birds this way?
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When should US egg producers scrap their cages?

With new cage-free purchase pledges announced every week, egg producers have to wonder if their cages will outlast the market for cage-produced eggs.
Just a little over a year ago, U.S. egg producers responding to Egg Industry’s Annual Top Egg Company Survey projected they would add nearly twice the housing for cage-housed hens as cage free hens, 7.1 and 3.7 million head worth, respectively. Now it would be surprising if any egg producer followed through on plans to install new cages in the U.S.
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Retailers should maintain egg choices for consumers

By catering to a vocal minority, retailers, food companies and restaurant chains are pledging to buy only eggs from cage-free hens.
BJ’s Wholesale Club joined rival Costco Wholesale by recently announcing that it will transition to offering for sale only eggs produced by cage-free hens.
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