In a nationwide movement, egg producers have upped their production of cage-free eggs. This dramatic switch for the egg industry to go with free-range hens is one of the biggest moves to hit the United States agriculture industry. Yet despite a growing consumer demand, Americans aren't buying free-caged eggs in the grocery store.
The switch from battery to cage-free eggs has left the market with an overwhelming amount of egg cartons that consumers aren't choosing to buy. Egg prices are lower for battery eggs and consumers are choosing that over eggs laid by cage-free birds. Battery cage systems lead to an egg production efficiency that results in cheaper prices for the consumer.
Unfortunately, these battery cages lead to egg-laying hens living in miserable conditions where most don't have room to spread their wings. The Humane Society of the United States reports that each battery hen has less than "a single sheet of letter-sized paper" to live which denies them the space of natural behavior including "nesting, perching, and dustbathing." These natural instincts are vital to the general welfare of the hens.
The demand by consumers for animal rights and overall hen welfare has lead retailers to make the drastic switch. According to Forbes, major retailers like "McDonald's, Disney, Kroger, Campbell Soup, Walmart, ConAgra, Starbucks and even White Castle have announced that they will shift to cage-free eggs, most by the year 2025." Sadly, the lack of purchase by the vast majority of consumers means battery eggs still have the upper hand in the industry.
In order to get cage-free egg production back to a healthy supply and demand level, eggs producers are having to reduce their number of hens. Buzzfeed reported that 6 to 8 million hens from Cal Maine - the largest egg producer in the US - will be put out of commission to get back on track. The promise by manufacturers and retailers to make the change to cage-free without the results expected have led to a decreased demand for free hens.
What does this mean for the future of cage-free production? It looks as though they will be at a loss. Unless the dollars meet the demand, it seems that cage-free production will decrease.
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