Cracking under pressure
On March 22nd, anti-cage lobbyists scored a significant win. The hospitality services division of the University of Guelph announced that in September 2007 only cage-free shelled eggs would be offered on campus.
This decision, made without input from animal and poultry science faculty, was initiated by the Guelph Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (GSETA). This student group received backing from the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) and the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) – two groups that have made it their mandate see cages abolished.
Groups such as the CCFA and the VHS are getting savvier when it comes to getting their agendas met. Like their flashier sister organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), these groups are targeting the young, impressionable and idealistic to join in their fight, but they are much smarter about it. No phoney photos or ridiculous t-shirts and buttons, but rather lessons on how to engage consumers.
The GSETA polled 300 students at the university and determined the majority of students would prefer cage-free eggs, and would be willing to pay extra for them. This led the University of Guelph’s decision to switch to cage-free shelled eggs, which according to Hospitality Services comprises roughly 15 per cent of the eggs served on campus.
Numerous media reports quoted activists as claiming victory at “Canada’s leading agricultural university.” University staff was quoted as saying their research showed that battery cages are inhumane. As a university alumnus, I was incredibly disappointed.
This university taught me to think critically, and they’re making a statement such as this based on one small survey with interested third-party backing? It’s simply unacceptable.
I have to give credit to Crystal MacKay, executive director of the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) and a fellow Guelph graduate, for spearheading a campaign amongst OFAC supporters and alumni calling for the university to show leadership with respect to student choice.
Efforts by OFAC and Ontario Egg Farmers paid off. The following week, the university reversed its decision and students will now have a “choice” between traditional and cage-free eggs (see page 7). However, much damage has already been done.
The welfare co-ordinator for the VHS said in a press release that “If Canada’s premier agricultural university can do it, so can others.” And many are considering the switch.
The CCFA and VHS followed up on their “victory” with a media conference in early April showing pictures illegally obtained from inside a Ontario layer operation, a powerful visual followup to a successful campaign and more fuel for the fire.
To their credit, the CCFA realizes that the industry can’t go cage-free overnight. However, I don’t think they realize the complexity of this issue. Many scientific studies have not necessarily shown one system to be better than another, and although Europe has been making the move to free-range and free-run systems, it hasn’t been seamless.
But their actions have demonstrated that the marketplace is changing. The industry is willing to adopt cage-free technologies, and with greater resources and funding, it can get there. Activists, be patient. Perhaps a little less time skulking around barns and more time spent lobbying for resources necessary to implement change would be of greater service. n
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