In the past four years 229 grocery stores and food companies have made public statements to transition to 100% cage-free eggs by a set future date. If all of those stores and food companies switch over to only cage-free, the industry will need to have 225 million layers in cage-free systems by 2025, and of that 171.6 million layers are needed just to meet the needs of grocery stores.
"That will cost egg farmers and egg companies between 10 and 11 billion dollars. Now they have less than five years to do that. I have said in many of my presentations the last couple years that the amount of birds that need to be switched to cage-free, the cost to do it, and the amount of time they have to do it in is financially and logistically impossible to achieve," said Chad Gregory president of the United Egg Producers (UEP) Tuesday, July 21, during the 2020 Poultry Science Association Virtual Annual Meeting.
By far, the majority of layer production in the U.S. is still in conventional systems, Gregory explained.
In January 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear arguments against state laws setting production animal welfare standards. "That was the catalyst to allow HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and other animal rights groups to go state by state and try to pass state laws," Gregory said.
If you add the states that have already passed cage-free laws and the states that HSUS is working on getting laws passed in right now (Colorado, Arizona and Hawaii) the total number of people in those states is 84 million people. "We know that based on the population number, we need the same number of hens for the same number of people for a per capita consumption basis," Gregory said.
This means that within the next three to five years we need to have -- through state laws -- 85 million birds switched over to cage-free systems.
"We believe that there will be some other states that will also pass state laws and that HSUS and other animal rights groups may turn their attention to other west coast states, Florida and Ohio once they get Colorado, Arizona and Hawaii under their belt," Gregory said.
If you add those other states in as possibilities to the current number of hens needed, then you would need almost 125 million hens just to meet state laws. "That's the complexity of these retail commitments," Gregory said.