The new Water Sustainability Act took effect February 29, 2016 and includes licensing requirements for all non-domestic groundwater users. As a result, all wells used for irrigation and livestock watering must be registered. READ MORE
Despite a higher number of cases of Salmonella poisoning from eggs and egg products during the hot summer months, researchers at the University's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences say the egg production process itself is not to blame for the increase in cases.
The findings are further evidence that the hygiene around egg handling in the supply chain and in household and restaurant kitchens is critical to reducing food poisoning from eggs.
Researchers conducted a study of four Australian commercial free range egg farms, with the results now published online ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
"Eggs and egg products have been associated with an increased risk of Salmonella contamination. Because the use of free-range eggs by consumers is on the rise, we felt it was important to better understand the risk factors at the production stage," says lead author Kapil Chousalkar, from the school of animal and veterinary sciences at the University's Roseworthy campus.
"Birds raised in the free range production system could potentially be exposed to weather extremes, and the free range environment is not as easily controlled as in cage egg production. Therefore, it has been assumed that hot weather has a role to play in the potential contamination of eggs at the site of free range egg production.
"Our results show that the types and levels of Salmonella found in and around free range egg farms, and on the eggs themselves, is highly variable, often dependant on the specific husbandry and management practices employed by each farm. However, we found that there was no direct association between hot weather and increased prevalence of Salmonella at the production stage, even when data was collected in the hottest month of February," Chousalkar says.
"This helps to reinforce a simple health safety message: that it's important for people to wash their hands before and after handling eggs, whether at home, in a restaurant, or while working in the supply chain."
The bacteria Salmonella Typhimurium – the most common cause of Salmonella poisoning from eggs and egg products in Australia – was the second highest type of Salmonella found at free range egg production farms. The most prevalent, Salmonella Mbandaka, is generally not associated with egg or egg product-related food poisoning cases in Australia.
As well as renewing calls for people to practice good hand hygiene when using eggs, Chousalkar says there is a need for nationwide standards and uniform practices on the surveillance of egg contamination and safety.
"Currently, each of the states has their own food safety and surveillance programs. Because of its implications for public health, we believe the incidence of Salmonella contamination needs to be monitored in a standard way across all farms," he adds.
When mechanical nests were first introduced, many people began referring to them as ‘automatic’ nests. While the term technically applies to mechanical nests, they still require a lot of human involvement to operate efficiently.
Key to achieving outstanding performance with mechanical nests is the proper training and rearing of the females. This should start in the pullet barn, by placing slat sections, or perches, to help get the birds used to going up on to the slats.
The training should continue in the laying barn by routinely walking the birds to encourage them to move on to the slats and towards the nests. The females should also be in the right condition at lighting and carrying the proper amount of fleshing and fat reserve, to help them come into production with the correct nesting behavior.
Most mechanical nests are placed on slat sections, which play an important role in how the nests perform. Make sure slat areas are not too tall; 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) is a good height. Anything taller will discourage birds from jumping up from the scratch area, and a step or ramp would be useful in helping the birds move up on to the slat.
The nests should be down and open for the females to enter one week before the expected first egg. This will be approximately one week after light stimulation, which gives the pullets an opportunity to explore the nests and become comfortable using them. Close the nests at night to help keep the nest pads clean, which will also prevent the eggs from becoming contaminated. This becomes even more important as we move into an era of antibiotic-free broiler production.
Three areas of nest maintenance that have a huge impact are the nest pad, the curtain and the nest belt itself. Nest pads must be clean, because if dirty, a bird may be less likely to use that nest box. Secondly, if it is used, the egg laid on that pad will most likely be contaminated.
As well, nest pads installed at the wrong angle will cause issues. If the angle of the nest pad is not great enough, the eggs will not roll out of the nest box properly. If the angle is too much, it will discourage hens from using that nest box.
On center belt nests, if the curtain that separates the nest box and the egg belt is missing or curled up where the hen can see the egg belt moving, hens are discouraged from utilizing the nest box. If multiple nests are affected, you will soon see many of the hens laying their eggs outside the nest.
Egg belts should always be kept clean and in good repair. A belt that is not clean will often have an odour that the hens do not like and will keep them from using the nests. If the edges of the belts become frayed, the edges can rub the hen while the belt is running and cause her to leave the nest.
Producers should have a consistent program for running egg belts. It is best not to run the belts until you see 10 to 15 eggs. When starting the belt, run it slowly late in the afternoon. A rapidly moving belt creates excessive vibration, which scares the birds out of their nests. By slowing down the speed of the egg belt, you are less likely to scare the birds out of the nests.
Once the daily production reaches 5 per cent, run the belts at noon and again later in the day, around 5 p.m. When production reaches 20 per cent, go to more frequent gatherings. A good rule of thumb is to gather eggs at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. This will help acclimatize the birds to the sound and vibration of the belt. Multiple, consistent gatherings can prevent eggs from building up on the belt and also allow for an accurate daily count of egg production.
It is very important to accurately calculate and plan the nest space required. With a community style nest, a good rule is no more than 48 birds per meter of nest space. With a single-hole nest, allow for a maximum of 5 hens per hole, which will give the hens enough space to lay their eggs in the nest.
1. Correct equipment layout:
- With a community nest system: have a mix of feed lines in the scratch area and on the slats Water lines approximately 60 cm (24 inches) from the nest entrance, and adequate spacing between water and feed lines to allow the birds to comfortably use them
- With individual nest systems, have an adequate landing area from the front edge of the slat to the nest of 35-40 cm (14 -16 inches). The distance from the back of the nest to the feeder and the feed to the drinker line should be at least 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), and the height from the slat to the bottom of the feeder should be 20-22 cm (8-9 inches)
- High temperatures on the slats can stop the hens going into the nest
- Improper inlet pressure can cause air to enter the nest at a rate that causes a draft, forcing the hen out of the nest
- A minimum of 60 lux (6 FC) at bird level is desired, but an approximate six-fold increase in intensity from the brightest spot in rearing to the darkest spot in laying is needed
- No more than a 20 per cent difference in intensity across the barn
Nestlé purchases almost 500,000 pounds of eggs annually, but says it is dedicated to working with Canadian farmers to make this transition by 2025.
“Canadian farmers are important to us, and in addition to eggs, we also purchase approximately $44 million worth of dairy products every year. Working alongside Canadian farmers is an essential part of our commitment to the health, care and welfare of animals,” Catherine O’Brien, senior vice president, corporate affairs says.
The pledge to use 100 per cent Canadian cage-free eggs is part of Nestlé’s global commitment on farm animal welfare, launched in 2012 and strengthened in 2014. As part of the commitment, the company outlined its plan to eliminate specific farming practices, like tail docking for cattle and pigs, gestation crates for pigs and veal crates. Nestlé works with World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare organization, to assess its suppliers against these commitments.
“[Nestlé's] commitment to move to cage-free eggs will have a huge positive impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of hens," Josey Kitson, executive director for World Animal Protection Canada says. "Unlike conventional barns, cage-free systems allow hens to move around freely, perch and lay their eggs in a nest box. World Animal Protection has been pleased to support Nestlé’s work to improve the lives of farm animals. We applaud Nestlé Canada’s commitment to hens today and their ongoing efforts to give other farm animals better lives as well.”
Nestlé is developing pilot projects with its suppliers and World Animal Protection to establish a roadmap for sourcing cage-free eggs in Europe and the rest of the world.
McDonald’s announcement a year ago spurred a tidal wave through the food industry. Around 200 companies, including every major fast food chain and many major brands, have said they will go cage-free. Most of them target 2025 for completing the transition.
The Fortune article cites results from Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) research that examined three different hen housing systems – conventional cage, enriched colony and cage-free – and concluded there are positive and negative trade-offs with each.
Food beat writer Beth Kowitt cites that the CSES study considered the housing systems as a whole – worker health, animal health, food affordability, food safety and environmental impact, while activist groups focus solely on animal welfare. An excerpt: In the end, science wasn’t the deciding factor. The study intentionally excluded one component – consumer sentiment – and that turned out to be the most important of all. The phrase “enriched cage” means nothing to the average person. So if McDonald’s had shifted to that option, it wouldn’t get any credit from consumers. “Science was telling us enriched, but when talking with the consumer, they had no clue what enriched was,” says Hugues Labrecque, who runs the egg business that serves McDonald’s at Cargill. Once that became clear, cage-free became the inevitable consensus.
In a Forbes op-ed, contributor Steve Banker, who covers logistics and supply chain management, cites the Fortune article and analyzes what will have to happen in the marketplace in order for McDonald’s to meet its cage-free commitment by 2025. He concludes, “McDonald’s shows us that companies have a chance to do ‘good,’ where ‘good’ is defined in a way that resonates with their customer base….”
In a Forbes article back in May, “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert noted there currently is no United States Department of Agriculture legal definition for “cage-free” and that, “…transparency of what the term actually means will anger many as they discover their imagery of a happy-go-lucky hen running through the field is far from the truth.”
People with strong feelings about hen housing tend to bypass scientific studies such as that conducted by CSES. Food companies want to give customers what they want regardless of the science.
There are a number of barriers to consumers integrating scientific information into their decision-making process. The influence of group values, confirmation bias, scientific illiteracy, the tribal nature of online communication and other factors all pose challenges to successfully introducing technical information into the social conversation about food and agriculture.
Many of the barriers can be overcome by following the formula developed through CFI’s research. Establishing shared values opens the door for technical information to be introduced into the conversation. It begins by first identifying and then communicating values from a credible messenger. Only then can incorporating technical information be viewed as trustworthy, building on a message platform that encourages informed decision-making.
Building trust is a process. Authentic transparency and continued engagement will encourage objective evaluation of scientific information that supports informed decision-making. Encouraging informed decision-making requires meeting people in the communities where the discussions are taking place, acknowledging their scepticism and committing to long-term engagement.
The Center for Food Integrity
CFI is a not-for-profit organization whose members and project partners represent the diversity of today’s food system, from farmers and food companies to universities, non-governmental organizations to retailers and food processors.
Visit foodintegrity.org for more information.
The swell of demand from North America’s largest food companies for cage-free eggs is a stunning example of why public trust in our country’s food system matters.
The huge number of cage-free commitments from food makers, retailers and restaurants in Canada and the U.S. stems from how these companies perceive overall consumer opinions on hen housing – the fact that consumers do not trust that farmers know best with regard to housing systems that provides the best life for hens.
While these North American food companies (see sidebar) are no doubt being influenced by cage-free commitments already made by their subsidiaries or peers in Australia, the UK and the EU, their promises to only source cage-free eggs in these other parts of the world are again based on consumer perception, largely influenced by animal activist groups.
The united cage-free front of North American food makers, restaurants and retailers suggests that cage-free housing is inevitable in both Canada and the U.S. There are simply no major egg buyers who want anything else. “This is a done issue in the U.S.,” says Josh Balk, senior director for food policy at the Humane Society of the United States. “I can’t see the Canadian scenario being any different.”
However, whether egg farmers in either country will be able to meet the deadlines is far from certain.
Eggs Farmers of Canada (EFC) has currently committed to reaching 50 per cent cage-free production within eight years (2024), 85 per cent within 15 years and to have all hens “in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range by 2036, assuming the current market conditions prevail.” This does not line up with North American food industry timelines of sourcing only cage-free eggs by 2025 or sooner. For example, Retail Council of Canada members such as Loblaw and Wal-Mart have committed to 2025, and David Wilkes, Retail Council senior vice-president of government relations and grocery division, says they “will continue to work with producers and processors to transition to this housing environment.”
Burnbrae, sole egg supplier of McDonald’s Canada, is switching all its production for that customer to cage-free to meet the restaurant chain’s 2025 deadline. In the U.S., Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Farms, the country’s second and third largest egg producers, are already converting to cage-free barns.
A&W Canada currently stands alone among North American food industry companies in its support of enriched housing. The fast food company says it “has worked very hard to have our eggs come from hens that live in enriched cages,” and that it “will continue to serve eggs from enriched housing while we work towards better cage-free housing.” The chain recognizes that Canadians want their eggs to come from hens housed outside of cages, but adds that “there are currently no viable commercial cage-free housing options that meet our strict standards.” To that end, in March 2016 A&W announced it wants to work with Canadian charity Farm & Food Care to bring egg industry partners, retail and food service from across Canada together with the U.S. Center for Food Integrity’s Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply to discuss all issues impacting sustainable eggs (including food safety, environment, hen health, worker health and safety and food affordability), and determine areas that the Canadian egg sector feels funding would be best spent. A&W has offered a grant of $100,000 to further this research. For it’s part, EFC recognizes research that shows each production system comes with trade-offs. We asked EFC about the fact that for any Canadian egg farm to convert to enriched cages and keep the same production level, new barn(s) will likely have to be constructed because the same number of birds cannot be housed in enriched cages in a given barn as were housed in battery cages. Does EFC see this as a particular challenge for Canadian egg farmers in terms of costs and the land required? “There are many factors a farmer needs to consider when evaluating the realities of transitioning an operation,” EFC states. “What’s important to keep in mind is that every farm is different (e.g. size, location, etc.) and until farmers start working through the implications of their transition—carefully considering his/her requirements—any estimation of cost is speculative.”
While EFC is currently looking into the financial implications of various alternative housing systems, we asked also if cage-free barns are less expensive than enriched cages, taking into account the possible requirement for new barn(s). “The decision to retool an existing barn or build a new barn is an important component of each farm’s individual transition plan,” EFC states. “Shifting to a new production system with different space requirements can impact the overall size of the flock. Typically, alternative housing systems have a larger building footprint and do not contain as many birds and conventional housing systems.”
Cost is a concern for the United Egg Producers, which represents those producing almost 90 per cent of American eggs, and for the National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF), which represents about one per cent of U.S. production. NAEF is against mandated cage-free production for other reasons as well, including increased egg prices, increased mortality due to cannibalism and other factors, increased pecking injuries, higher risk of contamination due to prolonged exposure of eggs to litter and manure in nest boxes or on the barn floor, high dust levels and ergonomic challenges in egg collection.
Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released the draft version of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Layers for public comment in June. The draft does not promote any type of housing over any other, but does include new recommendations for roomier cages.
In the end however, any attempt to convince the North American foodservice industry of the merits of any other type of housing except free-run/cage-free may be a lost cause. Marion Gross, senior supply chain management vice president at McDonald’s USA, may have summed it up best in her statement in January 2016 in the Chicago Tribune: “Enriched [housing] doesn’t mean anything to our customers, but they know what cage-free means.”
August 11, 2016 - The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, in partnership with The Center for Food Integrity in the US (CFI), convened an Animal Care Review Panel to analyze an undercover animal rights group video about an egg farm that was released on July 21, 2016. The panel was comprised of an ethicist, an animal care specialist and a veterinarian. A report of their findings was released by the Canadian CFI on July 22, and distributed directly to select media, egg industry groups and companies, food retail and food service associations. Review the report from the panel here.
Hidden camera investigations have heightened public attention on animal care issues. In an effort to foster a more balanced conversation and to provide credible feedback to promote continuous improvement in farm animal care, CFI created the Animal Care Review Panel process.
The Panel operates independently, and Its reports are not submitted to the industry for review or approval. CCFI's role is to facilitate the review process and release the panel's findings.
June 27, 2016 - Perdue Foods announced June 27 a four-part a plan that it feels will accelerate its progress in animal care, strengthen relationships with farmers, build trust with multiple stakeholder groups and create an animal care culture for continued improvement.
Titled 2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care, the plan was developed with input from stakeholders such as farmers, academics and leaders of animal advocate organizations who were invited by Perdue to help shape this progressive animal care plan that sets new industry standards.
“As we continue to learn about innovative and better ways to raise animals through our No Antibiotics Ever journey and our experience in raising organic chickens, we are adopting a four-part plan which will result in changing how we raise chickens,” said Chairman Jim Perdue. “Transparency is very important to Perdue consumers, who are interested knowing how we raise, care for and harvest our chickens. Our vision is to be the most trusted name in food and agricultural products and animal care is a big part of that journey.”
“Poultry production as a whole has made great progress in keeping chickens healthy; however, we can improve by implementing policies that go beyond meeting chickens’ basic needs. We want to create an environment where chickens can express normal behaviors,” said Bruce Stewart-Brown, DVM, Perdue’s senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production. “Over the past five years, we’ve been exposed to and learned some husbandry techniques associated with organic production. And, through the brands that have recently joined our company, we’ve been able to learn from some of the pioneers of a more holistic approach to animal well-being. When we talked to farmers they responded very positively to these improved husbandry methods. In addition, we hear from consumers that how animals raised for food are treated is important to them.”
The first major company to commit to implementing such progressive practices in raising and harvesting animals system-wide, Perdue’s Commitments to Animal Care goes well beyond most other companies’ commitments to encompass not only the animals but the people who care for and handle them, as well as stakeholders who have an interest in this area.
Perdue’s four Commitments to Animal Care
The Perdue Commitments to Animal Care summarizes current progress and details next generation initiatives for each part of the plan. Perdue is putting program measurements in place, including audits by third parties, and will release an annual report announcing its progress in reaching specific goals.
Specifically the four-part plan commits to:
The wants and needs of the animals
Based on The Five Freedoms, an internationally recognized standard for animal husbandry, Perdue’s commitment document lays out where the company is today on each of the five aspects as well as future goals. For instance, the majority of chickens today are raised in fully enclosed barns without natural light. Perdue is committed to retrofitting 200 chicken houses with windows by the end of 2016 to compare bird health and activity to enclosed housing.
The farmers that raise the chickens
Appreciating that chickens spend most of their time in the care of farmers, the plan stresses improved relationships with farmers. This includes creating an open dialogue about best practices in animal care, considering the farmer’s well-being and connecting animal care to pay and incentives.
Openness, transparency and trust
The plan also calls for Perdue to be open to criticism of its current policies and procedures when deserved, share information about animal care initiatives, and proactively engage with a wide variety of animal welfare stakeholders, including advocates, academics and animal care experts.
A journey of continuous improvement
The fourth part of the plan commits to ongoing learning and advancements in the company’s animal care programs to ensure the health and well-being of its birds through next-generation initiatives. This commitment will be driven by Perdue’s active Animal Care Council, which has been in place for more than 15 years.
“Our four commitments have one goal and that is continued improvement in animal care. We know we’re not where we want to be yet but we want to allow others to take the journey with us,” said Stewart-Brown.
“From lessons learned from organic chicken houses, it’s clear that there can be a general health benefit with increased activity—and that is a big focus of our plan. Short-term goals that support increased activity include window installations in 200 existing poultry houses by the end of 2016 and studying the role of enrichments such as perches and bales of hay to encourage activity. Our goal is to double the activity of our chickens in the next three years.”
It’s an amazing thing to be a part of an initiative that’s already making a significant difference, to be able to help take it to the next level and make further progress. That’s what Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) is achieving, having spearheaded and funded the addition of an egg farm to “Project Canaan,” a sustainable farming and economic development initiative in Swaziland, Africa. Project Canaan was started by an Ontario couple in 2009 under their charity “Heart for Africa.” Although Janine and Ian Maxwell had no farming background, they enlisted the help of experienced folks and turned 2,500 acres of empty land into a thriving mixed farm and rural community.
The site boasts dairy cow and goat operations, along with cultivation of fruit, vegetables and cash crops and creation of hand-made items. The farm feeds the 86 orphans who make a home there, the 220 local employees and thousands of people through local church-sponsored food programs. The egg farm is the next step in making the charity’s farm, orphanage, schools, women’s shelter and medical clinic self-sustaining by 2020.
EFC has long been involved in food assistance programs around the world, for example, sending over 16 metric tonnes of egg powder per year to feed children in developing countries over the last 20+ years. In 2014, the International Egg Commission (IEC) brought various independent charitable actions being taken by IEC members (such as EFC) into a cohesive strategy, forming the International Egg Foundation. It now works with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and other groups. For the Project Canaan egg farm, the fundraising, expertise and training is being provided by EFC, and the IEC is providing supports such as the technical services of Ontario poultry vet (and IEC scientific advisor) Dr. Vincent Guyonnet.
EFC chair Peter Clarke has visited Project Canaan several times, most recently in December 2015. He’s been involved from the start, ever since Janine presented the project to the IEC many years ago. He and others looked into the initiative in detail, were satisfied with its legitimacy, and presented it to the EFC board. There was unanimous support, and a project team then was formed to make egg production on the farm a reality.
“We put the call out to our industry last year, and our partners and Canadians responded with compassion and generosity,” says EFC CEO Tim Lambert. “Much of the funding for the project was the result of donations and in-kind contributions. The outcome of this collective effort yielded truly amazing results - more than $700,000 has been raised to date to support the construction of the operation and help with operating costs. We remain committed to fundraising to support the ongoing costs of operating the farm until it reaches self-sufficiency.”
The layer operation at Project Canaan welcomed its first flock of 2,500 hens in January and a second flock of 2,500 will arrive in July. The design of the two barns had to account for the extreme heat the country is exposed to. “The buildings are higher than normal,” Clarke explains, “so that the heat rises and goes out the vents, and there are also fans that help with that. The buildings are also open-sided, with curtains that can be opened or closed to let the breeze blow through. The birds are doing extremely well.” The two-tier Big Dutchman cage system that was chosen is made for remote areas and has a simple design so it can be operated with little or no electricity, Lambert explains. “Feeding, egg collection and manure removal is carried out manually,” he says. “More staff will be hired to manage and operate the farm over time. This fits Heart for Africa’s philosophy that providing employment creates a ripple effect within the community.”
In addition to EFC board members, several other Canadian egg farmers have volunteered to work hand-in-hand with local Swazis to share knowledge and build an understanding of best practices. “This has become a unique opportunity for some of the young leaders in our industry,” Lambert notes. “New Brunswick egg farmer Aaron Law spent much of January in Swaziland, followed by Ontarians Isaac Pelissero in February, and Megan Veldman and Lydia DeWeerd in March. All of these young people have shown a tremendous amount of leadership and compassion, and we are very proud that they stepped up to share their expertise.”
EFC intends to implement the Project Canaan model in other areas of Swaziland as well as other African countries. “It is part of our belief that the egg can and will play a major role in the world’s approach to hunger and malnutrition, helping children and families in developing countries where diets are deficient in protein,” Lambert says.
What stood out for Clarke on his visit was the impressive agricultural expertise that exists in Swaziland. He notes the team made a connection with a large poultry operation nearby to deliver both pullets and feed. They are currently working with a local nutritionist and veterinarian as well. For Clarke, motivation to be involved in Project Canaan is all about the huge difference it is making. “From hearing Janine’s presentation to our board, getting support from producers coast-to-coast and then going there and seeing what they’re doing with orphans, seeing the connection with 30 churches in the outlying areas and knowing just how fantastic a source of protein is an egg to a child or to any individual, it makes you want to buy in and be a part of something that can make that much of a difference,” he says. “You see the results.”
Roger Pelissero, EFC director from Ontario and father to Isaac, is another Project Canaan team member. When he visited in fall of 2014, he and others also went to Mozambique to visit the “Eggs for Africa” project there, where he says they gathered a lot of valuable information. What impresses Pelissero most about the whole project is the dedication of Janine and Ian Maxwell, whom Pelissero says started this humanitarian work in a search for meaning after 9/11 happened. “They’ve made a total change in their lives and it’s quite a commitment,” he says. “They know they can’t change the whole world, but they can made a difference in some children’s lives and they are
North Carolina State University (NCSU) is the only remaining venue in North America at which comparative testing of egg laying stocks takes place. At one time in the mid 1960s, there were more than twenty locations in the U.S. and Canada where Random Sample Laying Tests were conducted. Instead of abandoning testing altogether, NCSU chose to superimpose a variety of management systems, cage sizes and configurations on top of the strain comparisons.
In the 39th test, stocks were exposed to the following: conventional cages, enrichable cages, enriched colony housing, cage-free and range.
A total of 20 strains from six different breeding companies were included. Of the 20 strains, 14 have wide commercial distribution in the southeast U.S., while the other six are either experimental or have limited or no distribution. With respect to Canadian distribution, most of the stocks available here are included in the test. Day-old chicks were supplied either by breeders or commercial distributor hatcheries.
Conventional cage results
Two cage densities were used: 69 sq. in. (445 cm2) and 120 sq. in. (774 cm2). The higher density (445 cm2) approximates to commercial practice, although space allowances are progressively increasing.
Summaries of the data were prepared from 119 to 483 days of age. The flocks were then moulted and data was again summarized at 763 days of age. Only the first cycle (to 483 days) data are reviewed here.
Comparing the cage densities showed that in white-egg hens housed at 774 cm2/hen, feed intake was higher by 10 g/bird/day, eggs per hen housed was higher by 7 eggs/hen and mortality lower by 0.86%.
Comparing the strains is complex. Table 1 shows some key data for all 12 white-egg strains tested. Feed intake varied from 96 to 110 g/hen/d. This is, of course reflected in the feed cost data. The strain with the lowest feed intake (Hy-Line CV26) also had comparatively low egg production and egg weight, and thus low value of eggs minus feed. However, the strain with the next lowest feed intake (Shaver White) had much higher egg production, modestly higher egg weight, and very favourable value of eggs minus feed.
With two exceptions, the numbers of eggs per hen housed were quite uniform. Statistical analysis showed that most of the strain differences were not significant. Those with production >317 eggs/hen housed were significantly different from those with production <300. Mortality data are not shown, but mortality was low, averaging 3.9%, and no significant strain differences were observed.
Egg weight was also quite uniform. The average of 60.1 g/egg leads to size categories of approximately 63% extra large, 22% large and 8% medium. For each 1.0 g increase in average egg weight, approximately 5% of the large size move to extra large. In the test situation, extra large eggs were priced approximately three cents per dozen more than large. In most Canadian situations, this premium does not exist. However, when egg weight falls 1.0 g below average, the number of medium size eggs increases two to three per cent, which causes a significant financial penalty.
Turning to the nine brown-egg strains, the first thing to note is the difference in performance between the two cage densities. Brown-egg hens given more space (774 cm2 versus 445 cm2) consumed 11 g more feed/d, and laid 16 more eggs/hen housed. Mortality was 2.5% less in the larger space, although this difference was not statistically significant. The data, when combined, showed an extra $1.00 in egg value minus feed cost for the higher space allowance. For the white-egg strains, the difference was only $0.28.
The brown-egg strains feed consumption varied from 103 to 110 g/hen/d, and hen-housed production from 304 to 314 eggs. Few of these differences were statistically significant. With one exception, the values for egg income minus feed cost were also quite uniform. One is impressed by the relatively small differences between the white and brown-egg strains in these comparisons. Feed intake was actually lower among the brown-egg strains; egg numbers and egg weight were only marginally lower. Traditionally, one would expect higher feed intake and egg size for the brown strains.
Enrichable cages (EC) are 66 cm x 61 cm with 9 birds/cage (447cm2/hen). The cages are belt cleaned. Enriched colony housing (ECS) is the same style of cage but 244 cm wide and includes a nesting area and a scratching area of 1.85 m2 each, plus two perches each 123 cm long. Two bird densities were compared in this system: 36 hens/cage (447 cm2 each) and 18 hens/cage (897 cm2 each).
Cage-free housing consists of a combination of slat floor and litter, with nest boxes and perches. Each pen is 7.4 m2 and holds 60 hens in the adult phase (8.1 birds/m2). Birds in this system were grown in the same pens used for the laying phase.
The range system, used for only three strains, consists of pens 3.7 m x 2.0 m holding 60 hens. They have access to 334 m2 of grass pasture. The pasture is divided in two and rotated every four weeks.
Not all strains were exposed to all of these environments. For example, only two brown-egg strains and one white-egg strain were tested on range. All except two strains experienced the enrichable cages and the enriched colony system. This makes it hard to compare both the strains and the environmental systems, but we can draw a few conditional conclusions.
All birds were moulted during the test, which lasted until 623 days of age.
Comparing environmental systems
Ten white egg strains were exposed to both EC and ECS systems. The most striking difference between these was with respect to laying house mortality. When hens were housed at 69 sq. in./hen, the ECS system showed 23% laying house mortality compared with 16% for the hens in smaller cages, but the same space allowance. While both values are extremely high for contemporary laying flocks, the larger colonies were clearly at a disadvantage. Mortality for the same strains in conventional cages in a different building was 4.3%. Brown-egg strains compared in the same conditions showed overall lower mortality and no differences between ECS and EC. Among the white-egg strains, only Hy-Line W36 had relatively low mortality (6.0% and 7.4% in the EC and ECS systems respectively.)
Comparing the white egg strains in the ECS system at two different densities (447 cm2 versus 897 cm2) showed a definite benefit to the lower density. Mortality was only 9.9% versus 23%. Brown egg strains also benefited from the more generous space allowance, although to a lesser extent: 7.1% mortality versus 10.9%.
Seven white egg strains housed in the cage-free system showed mortality of 14.3%; eight brown egg strains had 15.6%. On free range, the one white egg strain tested had 13.3% mortality, while two brown egg strains averaged 3.75%.
While there were some strain differences in mortality within management systems, the general conclusion must be that large colonies and higher densities are associated with higher mortality. This is not a new discovery but one that is not encouraging for those producers planning on meeting the demand for cage-free or even furnished cage management systems.
Feed intake and egg production were also affected by management system, as shown in Table 4. In general, birds in larger colonies tended to consume more feed. This may be because of perceived increased competition in the larger colonies. Feed consumption was also higher in the cage-free and free range systems. As to egg production data, there were no real trends and the figures for the brown strains kept at 447 cm2 do not appear to be consistent with the other data.
Because of the fact that not all strains were tested in all environments, it is not possible to make realistic comparisons between them. Presented in Table 5 are the highest ranked “Egg value minus feed cost” data for each of the environmental systems.
Most notable among these data are the low values for the free-range flocks. These reflect relatively low egg production and high feed cost. As in conventional cages, the greater space allowance in the enriched cages resulted in higher values for egg income minus feed cost. Whether this would offset the higher cost associated with the extra space is doubtful.
All told, these data from the North Carolina Laying Test are of interest but this is limited by the very high mortality experienced in all but the conventional cage systems. Causes of mortality are not reported. As noted above, higher mortality is frequently associated with large colonies and with non-cage systems. This runs counter to the popular belief among consumers that bird welfare is improved in such systems. Until the systems can be improved, or consumers become more accepting of small colonies or conventional cages (unlikely in this writer’s opinion) industry will be faced with higher costs while producing eggs to meet the demand for cage-free eggs.
For those interested in the complete data from the test, they are available online at https://poultry.ces.ncsu.edu/layer-performance/
March 18, 2016 - The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) grocery members, including:Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Wal-Mart Canada Corp., announced that they are voluntarily committing to the objective of purchasing cage-free eggs by the end of 2025.
The grocery members of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) remain committed to taking a leadership role in animal welfare and have been working collaboratively to ensure the animal products they purchase meet stringent food safety standards and are raised in a sustainable and humane manner.
Guided by this approach, RCC and its members have been actively engaged in domestic and international discussions related to egg production.
"There have been significant discussions over the last several months among producers, processors, the scientific community and consumers regarding the best approach for raising hens," says David Wilkes, RCC Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Grocery Division. "These discussions have led to the announcement our members are making today, further demonstrating our commitment to providing Canadians with responsibly sourced food."
Wilkes commented that: "this voluntary commitment is made recognizing the restrictions created by Canada's supply management system and importantly this objective will have to be managed in the context of availability of supply within the domestic market."
A key part of RCC's approach to animal welfare issues is support for the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). NFACC is the only group in the world that brings together animal welfare groups, retailers, government and farmers under a collective decision-making model for advancing farm animal welfare.
NFACC is currently finalizing recommendations on a Code of Practice for Layer Hens. This code will provide guidance to industry on a number of areas related to the sound management and welfare practices through recommendations and requirements for housing, care, transportation, processing and other animal husbandry practices.
Wilkes concluded by saying that: "RCC remains firmly committed to the NFACC process and will work with other participants to not only advance our voluntary commitment to move to cage-free environments by the end of 2025, but also by ensuring suppliers adhere to the Code's recommendations."
The Code is expected to be finalized later this year.
As an industry pioneer tackling the issue of sustainability at the producer level, the Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) started on their journey of developing a sustainability platform for egg production farms in 2014. The development of the strategy looked like a familiar three-legged stool: stakeholder engagement, to open a dialogue so that the players understood each others’ views and values; accountability and transparency by measuring and monitoring progress; and integrating the PEEP (Producer Environmental Egg Plan) program with current work and processes.
The EFA sustainability platform was created with the consumer in mind but the target audience is all value chain partners, from government to special interest groups, to inform them about egg production at the farm level and to engage them as they pursue their own sustainability goals. “If our value chain partners want farmers to educate the public, we can help,” said Jenna Griffin, industry development officer for the EFA.
The sustainability platform was distilled down from seven key areas to a simplified four pillars: Healthy Birds, Healthy Eggs, Healthy Farms, and Healthy Communities. This has allowed them to engage farmers, making it easier to understand how their day-to-day practices can help to achieve sustainability goals.
EFA released their first sustainability report, outlining some statistics and metrics, in 2015.
As Griffin explained to the audience at the 2nd Annual Canadian Poultry Sustainability Symposium in London, Ont., the sustainability platform will join other EFA on-farm programs that include PEEP, Start Clean Stay Clean, and the Animal Care Program.
Sixty per cent of the producers in Alberta enrolled in the sustainability program in 2014, increasing to 68 per cent in 2015. Of those, 11 producers switched from incandescent lighting, reducing their carbon footprint by the equivalent amount of 158,000 km not driven or 41,372.06 kg of CO2. That’s the type of change that can be monitored through the program over time.
Along the way EFA is learning how to better ask the questions and which questions to ask. For example, changing the wording on a question about manure management raised the average score from four to five, without actually reflecting changes to the practice itself. We needed to ask what we were really after, admitted Griffin. In 2016 there will be more questions added as the program evolves, such as energy usage for cooler systems, and more emphasis on wash water effluent management.
Griffin’s first piece of advice for other provinces, in order to make engagement in sustainability programs attractive, would be to speak in a language that matters to farmers. What does a ‘carbon footprint’ actually mean on a farm? Help farmers to understand what that means in terms of kWh of energy, for example, and how that can pencil out. She also suggested engaging and training farmers to be ambassadors. When farmers can see their goals are being met, they can take ownership of that and share their own story.
One of the original intents was to start discussion, to start dialogue among all stakeholders, creating a “coalition of the willing”, said Griffin. For Egg Farmers of Alberta, she acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to do, everything from opening up that dialogue through webinars and workshops, to dealing with setting goals for production practices such as beak trimming (Where are we at? Where do we need to be?). So far, the discussion has been hard to contain.
Egg Farmers of Alberta was the recipient of the 2015 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award for their leadership and achievements in sustainability programming.
Furnished cages support behaviours such as scratching, perching and nesting, but their design continues to evolve. Thirty years ago, the earliest models held fewer than 15 hens and allowed them access to dust baths or litter. These prototypes presented problems with hygiene and egg collection, with scratch mats now being the norm. The size of the furnished cages has changed too – some of the newest models now house groups as large as 100 hens.
How does the performance and welfare of the hens respond to higher stocking densities?
A study done by Tina Widowski in the department of animal and poultry science at the University of Guelph, measured these parameters at two different densities in two different sized cages, with comparison to reference groups housed in conventional cages. The production parameters under consideration included feed intake, egg production, egg weight, mortality, body weight and body weight uniformity, feather condition, and bone strength.
“This research is some of the first ever to assess the welfare of hens housed in large furnished cages of different sizes and space allowances using measures of production, health and body condition,” said Widowski. “At any given space allowance hens in these larger groups have more total space available to them and more ‘free space’ since they tend to cluster together at different times of day leaving some parts of the cage largely unoccupied.”
Widowski used 1218 conventionally reared LSL-lite laying hens housed at the Arkell Research Station near Guelph, Ont. Eighteen-week old hens were individually weighed and wing banded before being placed in either larger standard commercial furnished cages or custom built smaller furnished cages.
The cages were populated with 80 (high density) or 55 (low density) birds in the larger cages and 40 or 28 birds in the smaller cages. This allowed for a stocking space allowance of either 520 cm2 ( approximately 80 in2, high density) or 748 cm2 (approximately 116 in2, low density) per hen. The European Union standard is 750 cm2/hen; a reference population in conventional cages was used for comparison at 465 cm2 (72 in2)/hen.
Furnishings included curtained nest boxes, claw shorteners, two linear feeders, nipple drinkers and a smooth plastic scratch mat where a small amount of feed (20g) was distributed several times per day. Perch allowances and nesting areas were proportionally sized for the cages and the hens were given feed and water ad libitum.
Egg quality was monitored continuously over the 50 weeks of the trial and egg quality was assessed every four weeks to provide an indication of shell strength. Hens were randomly selected for individual body weight measurements at 30, 50, 60 and 70 weeks of age, at which time they were also scored for overall cleanliness, feather condition, as well as keel, toe and foot damage health. At the end of the trial 10 per cent of the birds were assessed post-mortem for bone strength.
Overall the results indicate that most measures of productivity were not affected by the parameters of the trial. Hen day egg production, egg weight and eggshell deformation were not affected by cage size while there was slightly greater egg deformity (weaker shells) at 57 weeks of age in low space allowance.
Mortality was lower in conventional cages than any of the furnished cages (4.6 per cent vs. 2.0 per cent), unaffected by cage size. The majority of mortality occurred early in the study, due to injury or entrapment, while both birds and researchers adjusted to the new systems.
Feather condition deteriorated under all treatments over time, but hens in the high density furnished cages were poorer than the others, with the increased potential for abrasion by the furnishings or the possibility of increased feather pecking. This is supported by other research that found feather condition deteriorates with decreased space allowance.
Hens in large cages were the cleanest, possibly explained by cage design – the large cages were fitted with a wire partition over the scratch mat area that kept them from roosting and defecating there – or simply that higher density resulted in closer contact.
All bones were stronger in furnished cages than conventional cages, but leg bones tended to be weaker in the small cages with lower space allowance. Overall, space allowance and cage size had no effect on the rate of keel damage. Toe damage was higher in the furnished cages over conventional, possibly because the furnishings allowed greater opportunity for mechanical injury. Footpad damage increased significantly as space allowance decreased.
The only unexpected result was that hens in small furnished cages consumed significantly higher amounts of feed compared to large furnished cages, a result that Widowski explained may be due to the difficulty in gathering feed intake data and possibly greater feed wastage with this experimental design.
Widowski concluded that while productivity and mortality were not influenced by space allowance, the differences in feather condition and foot health might be a reflection of compromised welfare of hens housed at the lower space allowance. Given current research results of this study and a comparable research project at Michigan State University, she suggests a cage space allowance of at least 581 cm2 (90 in2) per hen would be considered appropriate for maintaining the physical measures of welfare quality specifically for the white laying hens used in this study.
This research was supported by OMAFRA and Egg Farmers of Canada with in-kind contribution of Farmer Automatic Cages from Clark AG Systems.
If you do a Google search of the Internet, 157 million definitions of sustainability will come up. Is sustainability meeting the needs of the future and the present at the same time? Or is it really just producing more with less?
For some, sustainability means simply having food, while for others it may involve parameters such as ethical production; it’s simply not simple to define.
As president and CEO of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council (CPEPC), the Saskatoon native admits he’s no expert, but even with the simplest definition, Robin Horel can see that poultry and eggs have some advantages over competing protein.
Speaking to delegates of the 2nd Annual Canadian Poultry Sustainability Symposium, Horel pointed to factors such as energy efficiency, carbon emissions, feed conversion, land and water usage, and waste management as areas where poultry production shines.
But as Horel explained, there are many other factors involved in sustainability. His list begins with environmental impact, food safety, worker safety, animal health and welfare, and food affordability, growing from there, with varying levels of importance based on each factor.
Sustainability can mean different things to different people. Industry, farmers, activists, and consumers - everyone has different ideas. Around the world, a consumer’s definition of sustainability in terms of food will often depend on his or her economic situation.
What does the Canadian consumer want? Teams of people across the industry are trying to figure out the answer to this question. According to the Retail Council of Canada, Canadian retail consumers primarily base their choices in food service and retail on price, quality and food safety, with factors such as local, welfare and the environment becoming more important.
“It’s a changing consumer; not easy to follow,” said Horel, “but we have no choice.”
Look at eggs, for example. The retail shelves for eggs used to be about six to eight feet long, with white or brown and a few size choices. Now there are white and brown with half a dozen methods of production: organic, free range, Omega 3, raised without antibiotics. The claims are endless, and each claim carries its own segregation, labeling and auditing considerations. Other poultry products fall under the same claims, which can also include different processing methods.
One factor is sure though, “It comes at a price,” said Horel. It’s hard to know what the consumer wants, but we’re giving them as much choice as they’re willing to pay for.
What do processors graders and hatchers want? “Growth. Profitable growth,” said Horel. Canadian meat consumption peaked in 2000 and has declined by 12 per cent since then, but chicken has grown its market share. Turkey consumption on a per capita basis has remained flat, but measured against declining meat consumption, it has gained a small bit of share as well. Can poultry continue to increase compared to other sources of protein against this backdrop of declining meat consumption in Canada?
In terms of sustainability, poultry is well situated to do just that. What are the practical applications of sustainability factors to poultry at the retail level? Trust and transparency rank high.
Horel pointed out that above all, Canadian customers and consumers prize safe food. Any recall issues for any poultry product not only affect consumer trust in that particular product but their trust in all poultry products.
Brands are also important to the Canadian customer. If a supplier doesn’t tow the line, brand protection comes to the fore with videos or recalls resulting in suppliers being dropped; processors and graders will also cut off a farm to protect their brand.
As for label claims, Horel said don’t bother using up label real estate to suggest that chicken or turkey contains no hormones because it’s a waste of time and confusing to consumers. We are fortunate to have CFIA guidelines to guide labeling, said Horel. Under their guidance, you are not allowed to claim ‘no hormones’ unless you also say, ‘like all other chicken’. The label claim of methods of processing is generally acceptable, as long as they aren’t linked to further implied benefits. A good example of this would be high-pressure pasteurization, which is effective against listeria in packaged turkey or chicken products. You can tell the consumer that you’ve used the process, but you can’t claim it’s safer than other products as a result.
At the producer level, food safety is still at the top of the list. On-farm food safety programs need to be mandatory, with transparency maintained from processors, graders through to hatcheries needing information so they can provide traceability.
Looking forward, Horel suggested that two poultry food safety issues on the radar are salmonella and campylobacter. A new baseline survey report by CIPARS (Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance) will soon be released to the public indicating salmonella levels are “not as good as we’d like”. The pressure to reduce salmonella will intensify very soon, and the pressure will be on farms, starting with hatcheries.
Another issue in the forefront is the transition to enriched cages. Consumers often don’t know the trade-offs involved with such changes to the production system or how pressure on one area of production would “yank the wheel out of round” since all production components are inter-related.
As Horel explained, when you take laying hens out of cages there are going to be consequences: an impact on economics, on food affordability. There will also be increased pressure on the environmental component and possibly food safety. “If you don’t manage this properly you may adversely affect animal welfare, which is why you made the changes in the first place.”
Euthanasia is another difficult animal welfare issue to deal with, not only for the customer but also for farm workers, while loading and transportation is part of the production process that is most visible to the public as trucks moving down the highway. Preventative use of antibiotics and disease control also rank high on the list of issues under consideration.
“The result of processors and farmers having the same goals, if we are successful, is that we will not have to have multiple standards, audits, segregation issues, and confusion for consumers,” said Horel. “In order to get there, we need to translate the codes of practice into on-farm, practical terms.”
With regard to animal welfare, the goals of producers, processors, and graders should be the same: to ensure our customers have faith in our national animal care programs. They should trust that we are good caretakers and take our job very seriously, and that non-compliance is not tolerated. They need to trust that our codes are a good standard, and trust value chain members as an information source to deal with questions and undercover videos.
Horel listed five basic principles that need to govern animal care programs: they need to be national, based on the codes of practice, mandatory, third party audited, and transparent. Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) and Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) have both agreed to these five principles and their animal care programs reflect this; Turkey Farmers of Canada (TFC) is moving to acknowledge the five principles within their Flock Care Program by the middle of next year. CHEP, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, are the furthest away from the customer but, as part of the supply chain, the spotlight is going to hit them soon. As Horel says, “the pressure is on.”
In the end, what does sustainability mean for the poultry industry? Transparency, cooperation, and common goals of food safety, animal welfare and health, said Horel. These goals have to be shared by all to continue to build public trust in farming in Canada, in our industry and our products. If the per capita consumption numbers for poultry are any indication, we’re doing the right thing.
It’s called the Provision Coalition: a group of twelve food and beverage manufacturing organizations from across Canada that have teamed up under Growing Forward funding with the sole mandate of providing resources, programming and advocacy for sustainability.
Which leads directly to an obvious question: what does sustainability mean?
That’s where there is some confusion, said Cher Mereweather, even within their membership. As the executive director of the Provision Coalition, Mereweather addressed the 2015 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Conference in London, Ont.
She focused on the three pillars that presently define sustainability, which include economic, social and environmental considerations. That’s a good start, but from there, the discussion becomes complex.
The one common theme that she has heard so far in conversation with manufacturers and vendors is a passion in people to do the right thing. Low cost production alone isn’t enough; sustainability begins with awareness, like knowing how much water and energy you are using to make a bottle of wine. Starting with employees, it can be as simple as using one finger to turn off a light. “It’s not only an obligation but it makes good business sense,” said Mereweather. “Just start. You’ll be surprised.”
The Provision Coalition represents one tier of the farm-to-fork industry, where every segment of the chain is responsible for the links surrounding it. In this chain, transparency has become the buzzword, and one of the top issues we face.
What does transparency mean to the poultry industry? Who is responsible for it? Each link of the supply chain needs to be able to supply the answers to questions, driving the need for collaboration as we move towards a ‘clean label’ on our food, as consumers continue to ask, what’s in my food? Where is it from? What is its impact on the environment?
The impact of this consumer questioning is very real. Mereweather looked at some of the big players to show how consumers have influenced them and in turn, influenced primary production. A common theme has emerged.
Walmart, now the world’s largest grocer, is working directly with farmers on precision agriculture. Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocer, made the sweeping statement “We will source close to home to support local, regional and national Canadian producers/growers and to give our customers fresh, wholesome food while ensuring the health and vitality of food sources, including oceans.”
A&W launched a concept but forgot to talk to the supply chain, resulting in a lot of backlash when the industry could not respond quickly enough. They are now trying to re-build those relationships.
McDonald’s has been taking a more collaborative approach, such as with their 2014 Verified Sustainable Beef program, and Mereweather expects them to take the same approach with poultry.
Driven by their need to innovate Prime Brand, Maple Leaf Foods assures consumers that they are moving to feasibly grow antibiotic free production – “Canadian Farm Raised” – with no growth hormones, like all poultry in Canada.
With this push to the holy grail of sustainability, farmers will need to be able to provide transparent and verifiable information in the move towards big data collection, certifications and auditing, as well as a global database. They can expect questions about how the farm manages people, the environment and operations. It’s a theme the food companies call ‘responsible sourcing’, looking back to the farmer to help gain the trust of the consumer. There will always be money pushing the agenda, said Mereweather, but if you’re transparent, honest and real, trust will come.
But who pays? Is this just the new cost of doing business, she asked? It’s time to look at innovation, changing our mindset to ask how we can do business differently. We may uncover opportunities.
The Provision Coalition has started the ball rolling. It’s not just farmers, said Mereweather, feeling the same pressure. In this case, the industry needs to lead but the government needs to support, quite the opposite to the usual process of having the government lead.
So far Mereweather has run into some typical roadblocks while simply searching for collaboration. Each link is protective between competitors so the discussion hasn’t been easy. She has had to focus on what she calls pre-competitive collaboration, while making sure there is government and non-government representation in the room to avoid collusion to fix prices or market share.
There is also a need to avoid redundancy. These ‘Made In Canada’ discussions may start provincially, but need to align nationally as well as speaking to a larger marketplace, and build upon current programs such as the Environmental Farm Plan.
As Merewather says, sustainability isn’t something that can be built in isolation. Right now the focus of the Provision Coalition is to focus on a harmonization of efforts and consistency of information requests; collaboration is the key. As she admits though, “We won’t get there anytime soon.”
The Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) announced a landmark decision on Feb. 5 that the organization will commence a “coordinated, systematic, market-oriented transition from conventional egg production toward other methods of production for supplying eggs.”
The announcement is not unexpected and was inevitable, given the increasing pressure to ban conventional housing, as well as the number of foodservice companies making cage-free announcements.
However, the timeline given to make such an industry-wide transition – EFC says it will be completed by 2036 – has been met with criticism.
The Monday following EFC’s announcement I received a Letter to the Editor from Stephanie Brown, director, Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, and Liz White, director, Animal Alliance of Canada, in which they applaud EFC’s efforts, but lament on the timeframe:
The February 5th announcement from egg farmers is focused on enriched cages for hens, not cage-free systems, as consumers are requesting. Eggs produced in enriched cages won’t satisfy retailer requirements for cage-free eggs. Tim Hortons, Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell, General Mills, Nestle and others have responded to public pressure and are calling for cage-free eggs. It is regrettable egg farmers still promote cages for laying hens. Whatever the alternative caging is called – ‘furnished’, ‘enriched’ or ‘colony’– it remains an unacceptable confinement system. About 95 per cent of laying hens in Canada are now confined to battery cages with each hen having less space than a standard sheet of paper. Even with growing public pressure against battery cages, the EFC wants until 2036 to change from small battery cages to larger confinement operations. Twenty years is too long for the Canadian egg industry to move hens out of battery cages. The European Union made its change in 12 years.
Twenty years is a long time, but it is realistic. I would point the authors and other critics to a fantastically written article “The Insanely Complicated Logistics of Cage-Free Eggs for All” on Wired.com.
As the manager of the nation’s egg supply, EFC must ensure that eggs produced on Canadian farms are meeting consumer and customer needs – and meeting this obligation may not mean that 100 per cent of production must be cage-free, even 20 years from now.
Results from a commercial-scale study comparing enriched, conventional, and cage-free housing, commissioned by the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES), show that both enriched and cage-free housing systems have welfare benefits, and that birds in enriched housing actually fared a little better. Mortality was considerably higher in the cage-free aviary system, so why is this deemed the gold standard? I don’t understand how it is OK to accept more animals dying just to have them in more aesthetically pleasing surroundings.
EFC has, in my opinion, done the right thing by commissioning research and participating in initiatives such as the CSES to try to make the best decisions for its growers, purchasers and the birds. This is ongoing and it could very well be that in 20 years, the market deems all egg production be cage-free.
However, at this time, it’s too premature to demand only one type of production and dismiss enriched housing based solely on its looks.
February 5, 2016 - Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) is pleased to announce, on behalf of the more than 1,000 Canadian egg farms, the commencement of a coordinated, systematic, market-oriented transition from conventional egg production toward other methods of production for supplying eggs. This collective approach will take hen welfare, human health, other resource implications, environmental impact and food production sustainability all into account.
"In response to the best available scientific research and in light of changing consumer preferences, I'm pleased that the entire industry has agreed to an orderly transition plan that will further diversify our production practices," said Peter Clarke, Chairman of Egg Farmers ofCanada. "We see immense potential to leverage research and innovation to achieve the best possible outcomes across all factors of sustainable food production, which includes everything from environmental impacts to food affordability," he added.
This major shift will yield an almost 50% restructuring in as early as 8 years from now and includes a commitment to cease the installation of any new conventional housing. Presently about 90% of egg production is in conventional housing. The other 10% or so is in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range. Under the plan, to be overseen by a national working group in collaboration with the entire egg supply chain, the industry expects to achieve about a 50-50% mix in 8 years, about 85% (alternative production) in 15 years. All production would be in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range by 2036 assuming the current market conditions prevail.
Because the market, affordability for consumers, pullet rearing and other supply chain aspects, resource implications, and a number of construction and equipment realities all must be factored in, these projections represent a realistic forecast of what is achievable. The steady, coordinated and cross-supply chain approach will be executed with the utmost respect for ensuring supply—both that there are no supply shortages and that there is no production of eggs for which there is no market—while pursuing production diversification.
Alongside this announcement, the industry hopes to discuss with stakeholders and consumers the benefits of enriched housing, which do not seem to be well or widely understood outside of the industry. These include food safety, the minimization of mortality, cannibalism, and other aggressive behaviours (hens flock together and enjoy small groups), ensuring adequate feed and water for all (hens have a pecking order), human health and the lowest possible environmental impacts.
"Egg Farmers of Canada is proud to represent egg farmers across all systems and to offer consumers choice when it comes to eggs," saidPeter Clarke, Chairman of Egg Farmers of Canada. "We are about to take our already high performing industry and best practices in production to even higher levels."
The welfare, health, production, resource and other tradeoffs between each production method was further assessed by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply's four-year, commercial-scale study that looked at the sustainability of three different types of hen housing (conventional, aviary and enriched). The study, widely supported by a range of stakeholders, illustrates the complexity involved in evaluating different production methods. For example, it showed that while one production type might have an even higher impact on hen welfare, it also has impacts in terms of human health, the environment, and the economy of the sector that must be considered.
"Egg Farmers of Canada is committed to research, both around production practices and consumer preferences, and to ensuring evidence-based decision-making when it comes to industry practices," Mr. Clarke concluded.
The Canadian egg industry's investments in production method research have shown that enriched housing is a production means that provides the benefits afforded by conventional production and additional features. Enriched housing allows hens to exhibit specific behaviours which may include perching, scratching, foraging, dust bathing and nesting. The industry looks forward to discussing these important aspects, and the broader transition plan, with any and all stakeholders as this process unfolds.
February 3, 2016 – Farm, Food & Beyond: Our Commitment to Sustainability is a collaboration of Ontario’s farmers and food and beverage processors. Launched in 2015, its mandate is to create a sustainability initiative that builds upon the success of existing Ontario programs.
Retailers, food service companies and manufactures in the industry have been demanding greater transparency and advanced record keeping from producers and suppliers using environmental and social criteria. However, some international standards for sustainability are more suited to agriculture in developing countries and don’t consider the higher social, environmental and economic standards in developed countries like Canada.
Farmers and manufacturers see a need for harmonizing duplicative standards to reduce the burden of reporting, while recognizing there is equivalency in many categories. Farm, Food & Beyond’s intent is to limit redundancy. To that end, funding was secured from the Grand River Agricultural Society to complete a GAP analysis of 10 national and international sustainability programs compared to Ontario’s current Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and Growing Your Farm Profits (GYFP) programs. The raw data analysis of the GAP assessment, including specific questions and comparisons, is also available upon request.
From a content perspective, EFP/GYFP programs met or exceeded the other sustainability programs in 82 per cent of identified performance areas. Dr. Gord Surgeoner, chair of the steering committee, says he was encouraged by the findings.
Says Surgeoner, “We are very pleased with the results of this GAP analysis. We knew the Ontario programs would do well but they did very well when compared to international equivalents. The steering committee will now use these findings to design a program that provides solutions to the gaps identified through the research.
”The next step in the project will be to hire a project manager using recently secured GF2 funding. This manager will be tasked to begin discussions with all levels of the supply chain (producers, processors, retailers, food service, NGOs and consumer groups) to obtain support and commitment for the program. A draft framework will then be designed based on the feedback received.
The initiative has been developed by the following supporters: The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario (CFFO), the Presidents’ Council, Ontario Agri Food Technologies, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), Farm & Food Care Ontario, Provision Coalition and the Food Institute of the University of Guelph. Representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada participated in an observer capacity.
A report entitled Our Commitment to Sustainability, which serves as a basis for the project, is now available online at www.sustainablefarms.ca.
UGA poultry science developed the Chkminvent app, a poultry house moisture removal and ventilation calculator intended to provide users with an estimated minimum ventilation rate required to remove the specified daily amount of moisture from a poultry house. Photo by Mike Czarick
University of Georgia poultry housing experts have released the state’s first app to help poultry farmers determine how much they should ventilate their houses during cold weather.
With thousands of birds living in a single house, keeping the air warm and fresh without spending a fortune on fuel during the winter can be one of the toughest challenges for broiler producers. The new app – called CHKMINVENT – is meant to simplify this process, said Mike Czarick, a poultry housing engineer at UGA’s Department of Poultry Science.
“In the summertime, ventilation is fairly straightforward,” he said. “The more air they can move through the house, the better off their birds will be. In the winter, there is so much more at stake. Ventilate too much and you will have excessive energy costs and stressed birds. Ventilate too little you will have poor air quality and wet litter, which can lead to poor performance and health.”
The app, available through Apple’s App Store, allows farmers to enter variables, such as the outside temperature, the amount of water the chickens consume, the temperature inside the house and the size of the poultry house’s fans. It then calculates how long farmers need to run their fans in order to remove excess moisture from the house and keep the chickens at a comfortable temperature.
“The app gives people a starting point as to how much fresh air they need to bring in to control house air quality and litter moisture,” Czarick said. “It’s not intended to provide a precise minimum ventilation rate. It’s going to take adjusting, but this at least gives a scientifically based place to start.”
For more information about the CHKMINVENT app, search for it on Apple’s App Store. For now, the app is only available for iPhone, but the team may develop versions for other operating systems based on demand for this initial version.
Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
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