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The Big Question

The Big Question


March 3, 2009
By Kristy Nudds


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I have to admit I was a bit surprised with the answer I received when I
asked Paul Wipf, the poultry boss of the Baildon Colony just south of
Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, why he chose to install an aviary system to
replace his aging cage system (see cover story page 16).

I have to admit I was a bit surprised with the answer I received when I asked Paul Wipf, the poultry boss of the Baildon Colony just south of Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, why he chose to install an aviary system to replace his aging cage system (see cover story page 16).

The decision of the colony to install an alternative system was not based on worry that the egg industry was headed in this direction, but rather on the desire to avoid shorting the market in his province. A cage-free market had been developed, and there was not enough product to fill it.

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This leads me to the “big question” – will this type of market grow?  What exactly is the market for cage-free eggs?  What will the market be, in say, five years, 10 years?

Recently, Vencomatic North America held two producer sessions in Ontario called “Managing Freedom” and these questions were top of mind. There is great frustration among egg producers and the industry. Simply put, right now nobody seems to know.

Without doubt there is a push for developing this market by animal activist groups, namely by Humane Society International’s Canada branch, an arm of the very political Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the group responsible for pushing Proposition 2 in California. These groups are determined to force the egg industries in both Canada and the U.S., through legislation, to discontinue using traditional systems.

But what these groups can’t see through their ideological blinders is that on the ground, implementing such a change might not be the only option, and might not necessarily be better for the birds or for consumers.

They often claim that North America should look towards Europe which has “banned” cages as of 2012.  This is not entirely true.  While Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands do not allow enriched cage systems or have a system that requires the eggs to be identified as caged in an enriched system, many other European countries allow them. Some countries have simply ignored it or are not members of the EU and, therefore, do not have to comply. Although an EU directive to outline housing for laying hens exists (regarding where nipples are to be placed, how much light, scratching area, etc.), each country can ultimately set its own regulation.

The EU expected a “one size fits all” rule and it hasn’t worked. The ironic thing is, cages can be banned, but a ban on caged eggs doesn’t exist. Although 63 per cent of voters in California voted yes on Proposition 2, a recent survey of these voters showed that they purchase traditionally reared eggs. 

I think consumers are confused and easily swayed by groups opposing egg production. It’s up to the industry to set the record straight. It isn’t fair to tell consumers that one system is better than another when the facts don’t necessarily support such a claim. If opposition groups say that consumers should be offered choice, then they, as well as industry, need to make sure that consumers are correctly informed.

In this issue, we’ve provided several articles exploring European research on alternative systems to show you that the issue isn’t black and white. We’ll continue to provide relevant information on this issue, as it is sure to bring continued debate.