Recently I received a news release distributed by the Beyond Factory Farming Coalition, a national group of citizen’s groups that promote socially responsible farming. The headline was deceiving. It read, “Vancouver is first cage-free Olympic city.”
The truth is that the mayor and council of Vancouver passed a resolution requesting the removal of eggs from caged hens from city food services. Whether or not this will be achieved is another issue but the statement made is enough to grab attention.
Many institutions, particularly those academic in nature, are expressing the desire to serve free-run and/or free–range eggs and it seems that more are joining the bandwagon each month. The fight to ban cage rearing has snowballed from a clearly defined cause into a trend.
I think in part this has been fuelled by several announcements within the last year in the U.S. High-profile chefs like Wolfgang Puck have been persuaded to believe that free-run eggs are of higher quality and the popular ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s became the first food manufacturer to announce that they will only use cage-free eggs.
Many of the institutions in Canada making the move to free-run are located in B.C. Vancouver is known to be a draw for hippy-ish free spirits so this really is not surprising. It could also stem from the fact that B.C. has the largest production of free-run in free-range egg production in Canada, making implementation of such policies more feasible in the long-term.
This brings up the issue of supply. It’s one thing to announce a change but another to follow through. Even Ben and Jerry’s admits that it will likely take four years for their new policy to be fully implemented due to lack of supply.
B.C. companies won’t have the same problem due to increased specialty quota and the movement towards the development of a free-run and free-range certification program in the province. But institutions and companies in other provinces certainly would.
But the fact remains that the demand for such product is increasing, and given its current trendy status it’s something that can’t be ignored. What irks me is that it is based on philosophies that are often fundamentally flawed.
Although there is scientific research to support the theory that cages don’t allow hens to express their natural laying and nesting behaviour, this needs to be weighed against other significant issues that arise with free-run and free-range such as overall health, dirtier eggs, increased competition for food, fear of predators, increased costs — just to name a few.
Fortunately, it appears as though science and policy is starting to catch up.
The National Farm Animal Care Council is hosting Canada’s first-ever national farm animal care and welfare council this month in Ottawa (see our coming events section for details). The agenda clearly conveys that these issues need to be addressed.
The Canadian Poultry Research Council has also identified welfare as a top priority and has lobbied Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to co-ordinate welfare research efforts across the country virtually via the internet. This should prevent overlap, increase knowledge, and most importantly, expedite results.
Research needs to catch up with demands – if not, farmers and animals could find themselves adhering to public pressure and not what’s truly best for them. n
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