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Cage Layer Eggs Safe, Wholesome, Affordable and Humane Protein Source

04 September 2014

US - When labels are attached to modern farming practices such as "medieval cruelty" or "moral responsibility to act by avoiding cage eggs" as occurred on 30 August in Chris Rodley’s editorial, "Eating Brunch Right Now, You Might Want to Put Your Fork Down" it’s time to evoke the comments from The Guardian Editor in 1921, C.P. Scott, who stated "But facts are sacred", writes Ken Klippen, President of the National Association of Egg Farmers, Washington, DC.

According to Mr Klippen, Mr Rodley’s claims are devoid of facts. Mr Klippen writes, "In my 40 years of professional study and experience in the egg industry and having travelled to six continents to give speeches on animal welfare and view poultry production in other lands." According to him, these are the facts:

  • Chickens in conventional cages have significantly better livability than free-range chickens.
  • Chickens in conventional cages produce more eggs, larger eggs, better grade eggs, and waste less feed than free-range1

According to Ken Klippen, moving from a conventional cage to a non-cage system increases the likelihood of microbiological contamination of internal contents with Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis or other pathogens, or chemical contamination with dioxins in the soil, pesticides, or heavy metals2. He also writes that eggs from caged facilities have a 25 per cent smaller carbon footprint (2.2kg of carbon equivalent per kilo of eggs compared to 2.75kg of CO2e per kilo of eggs for free-range3.

The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of animal welfare specialists in the United States who know and understand poultry production, recently reviewed five areas related to housing hens in addition to the welfare of the chicken and made observations for conventional cages, enriched cages, or aviary (cage-free) systems4. Those areas are; 1) health and welfare, 2) environmental impact, 3) economics, 4) food safety, 5) worker health and safety.

  1. Health, well-being: Hens in the aviary and enriched systems had a higher incidence of keel bone deviations and/or fractures than hens in the conventional system.

  2. Environmental impact: Regarding indoor air quality, the Coalition of scientists stated daily mean ammonia concentrations were less than 15 parts per million in both conventional and enriched cage houses throughout the monitoring period, but higher ammonia concentrations in the aviary house exceeded 25 ppm. Further, particulate matter (PM) concentrations in the aviary house were roughly 8-10 times those in the conventional system.

  3. Economics: Farm costs for eggs were highest for eggs produced in the aviary system, followed by those from enriched housing and then conventional housing. In total it was 36 per cent more expensive to produce eggs in the aviary system than the conventional system, while the enriched system was 13 per cent more expensive than conventional cages.

  4. Food safety: The forage area of the aviary system and scratch pads of the enriched colonies had the highest levels of total aerobes and coliforms, while eggs from the aviary floor had the highest total aerobes and coliform levels.

  5. Worker health, safety: Sampling from personal exposure monitors worn by workers while in the hen houses found that inhalable particle and PM 2.5 concentrations, as well as endotoxins, were significantly higher in the aviary system compared to those in the conventional and enriched systems, which were not statistically different from each other. Worker ergonomics were also considered, with a number of tasks standing out as possible risks. Gathering the eggs birds had laid on the floor in the aviary system was found to be another issue for worker ergonomics as it warranted extreme body positions, including squatting for an extended period of time. Crawling and lying on the floor to collect floor eggs also exposed employees to potential respiratory hazards.

Health and well-being of humans is a major concern in the United States, writes Mr Klippen. The 2008 recession in the US was followed by the largest social welfare programme increase in the use of food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme) with nearly 48 million Americans or 15 per cent of the population receiving federal assistance help with their food purchases.

He reports that the need has improved slightly, but still in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reporting on a study by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers showed healthy eating by adults declined by 15 per cent largely due to the intake of foods containing trans fats.

According to Mr Klippen, this is not an issue in the consumption of high quality protein containing eggs and the 36 per cent increase to produce free-range eggs compared to conventional cage eggs will further drive consumers away from this healthy source of protein.

Mr Klippen writes: "Lastly, I wonder if Mr Rodley has ever visited Pace Farms, the Australian egg farmer vilified in his 30 August article. I have known Frank Pace for years and have visited egg farms and egg farmers in Australia to see firsthand the quality of the production practices. Anyone can take a picture of isolated incidents such as the ones used to vilify Pace Farms and claim this is the norm.

"We could take pictures of homeless people in Mr Rodley’s country and claim this is how people live and eat there, but that would not be factual. Isolated pictures do not tell the story. Facts do and hopefully C.P. Scott’s words in 1921 for The Guardian will prevail 'But facts are sacred'."

References

1 Anderson, Kenneth, NC State University, 2010
2 Holt, Peter, USDA/ARS Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, Athens, GA
3 de Boer, Impke, Wageningen University, Netherlands, 2010
4 www2.sustainableeggcoalition.org.

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