Cage-Free Eggs Leaves Buyers Scrambling For More

GLOBE - The toy industry had its Tickle Me Elmo, the auto makers the Prius and technology its iPhone. Now, the food world has its latest have-to-have-it product: the cage-free egg.
calendar icon 13 August 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

The eggs, from chickens raised in large, open barns instead of stacks of small wire cages, have become the latest addition to menus at universities, hotel chains such as Omni and cafeterias at companies such as Google. The Whole Foods supermarket chain sells nothing else, and even Burger King is getting in on the trend.

All that demand has meant a rush on cage-free eggs and headaches in corporate kitchens as big buyers learn there may not be enough to go around.

Vermont ice cream maker Ben and Jerry's got plenty of attention in September when it became the first major food manufacturer to announce it would use only cage-free eggs that have been certified humane by an inspecting organization. But the company says it will need four years to complete the switch.

"It's not easy to find all the eggs you're looking for," Ben and Jerry's spokesman Rob Michalak said. "The marketplace is one where the supply needs to increase with the demand."

The eggs can cost an extra 60 cents a dozen on the wholesale market. But most chicken farmers are not ripping out cages and retrofitting their barns. They question whether the birds are really better off, saying that keeping thousands of hens in tight quarters on the floor of a building can lead to hunger, disease and cannibalism. They also say that converting requires time, money and faith that the spike in demand is not just a fad.

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