Most major shell egg retailers, restaurant chains, food service distributors and food manufacturers in the U.S. have pledged to switch all of their shell egg and egg products purchases to cage-free by some future date, generally on or before the year 2025. The breakout for how hens were housed in the U.S. in 2017 was roughly 14 percent cage-free (including organic), 85 percent in conventional cages and less than 1 percent in enriched cages.
As part of Egg Industry magazine’s annual Top Egg Company Survey, egg producers were asked their opinion of how U.S. laying hens will be housed in 2025. Twenty five egg producers, who currently house 144 million hens, answered this question. The average of the 25 predictions was that 52.6 percent of hens would be housed in conventional cages, 2 percent would be in enriched cages and 45.4 percent would be housed cage-free. The predictions for the percentage of hens in conventional cage housing in 2025 range from 15 to 85 percent. The predictions for the percentage of U.S. hens that will be housed cage-free in 2025 range from 14 to 80 percent, and the predictions for enriched cage housing ranged from 0 to 10 percent.
Retailers not cage-free by 2025
While most major shell egg retailers have pledged to be 100 percent cage-free by 2025, some of these pledges contain language relating to “affordability and availability” of cage-free eggs. Egg producers were asked to select the statement about cage-free egg sales at retail in 2025 that most closely matches what they believe will happen. Twenty six egg producers who currently house a total of 147 million hens answered this question. Zero egg producers agreed with the statement that over 90 percent of egg sold at retail would be produced cage free. Ten egg producers agreed with the statement that between 50 and 90 percent of eggs sold at retail would be produced cage free. Sixteen of the respondents agreed with statements that said that less than half of eggs sold at retail in 2025 would be produced cage-free, with seven predicting that less than 30 percent of eggs sold at retail in 2025 would be produced cage-free.
U.S. hen housing changes in 2017
Egg producers were asked how much hen housing capacity was added to their operations. The twenty seven companies who completed survey forms report that they added new buildings in 2017 which could house a total of 3.6 million hens. These companies also report that they re-caged existing houses which could house around 1.25 million hens. U.S. egg producers who responded to the survey, report that they converted cage housing for around 4.0 million hens to cage-free housing for around 2.7 million hens in 2017.
2018 hen housing plans
Egg producers responding to the Top Egg Company Survey report plans to add housing capacity for a total of around 4.7 million hens. Housing for just over 2.14 million cage-free hens is expected to be added. The additional capacity for 2.6 million cage-housed hens includes additional hens that will be added in existing housing that is being converted from production for the California market.
Survey respondents also report intentions to convert cage housing for around 1.1 million head of hens to cage-free in 2018.