Consumers scramble for 'cage-free' eggs

WASHINGTON - When Peggy Taylor goes grocery shopping, she can't always find what she wants at the store around the corner. So the 62-year-old Washington resident frequents Whole Foods Market, one place she knows she'll find "cage-free" eggs.

Taylor makes a habit of purchasing eggs produced by hens that are not confined to cages but can roam freely inside barns or warehouses.

"There's been more publicity about how stock animals are handled," she said. "It hasn't made me a vegetarian yet, but it might."

The concerns of shoppers like Taylor are part of a growing public interest in where food comes from -- whether beef cows were fed on grass, whether asparagus came from local farmers, how much geese suffer in the production of foie gras.

When it comes to eggs, animal-welfare activists are pressuring grocery chains to stop selling ones from caged hens. In the confining rows of cages that house most poultry, they say, the birds cannot engage in such natural behaviors as nesting, perching, dust-bathing or even spreading their wings.

"When you cram so many birds into a cage that they are unable to spread their wings, it's an economic and moral shortcut," said Paul Shapiro, who heads the Factory Farming Campaign of the Humane Society of the United States.

Egg producers respond that keeping chickens in cages is much cheaper for consumers; conventional eggs typically cost about a third as much as cage-free ones and are equally nutritious, they say. Producers also argue that caging is safer for the birds, keeping them more disease-free.

calendar icon 12 June 2006
clock icon 1 minute read
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