DENVER — The United Egg Producers are not giving up without a fight. They say they may have limited funding compared to the Humane Society of the United States, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win.
The UEP held a media tour Oct. 1 to show off what is happening at egg farms across America.
It was the first time in recent memory, Farm and Dairy was able to tour an egg barn. Most media have limited accessibility to egg and chicken housing due to biosecurity concerns.
The tour was put together to help combat misconceptions about egg farming and the attacks by the Humane Society of the United States and what the UEP considers wrong information being spread by the group.
In addition, the farm group is fighting the farm animal care initiatives many states are seeing appear on their ballot or in their legislatures.
Issue 2, Ohio’s constitutional amendment that will allow the governor to establish a livestock care standards board, was definitely a hot button issue at the conference. The Buckeye State is being watched closely because Ohio is second to California in the number of eggs produced.
The HSUS was successful with a California ballot initiative last fall that restricts how egg laying chickens can be housed. The new California standards state the chickens have to have enough room to move around and dictate that they must not be able to touch another bird.
Caged vs. cage free
Egg production is coming under fire because most farms are caged operations, meaning several birds are kept in a cage with limited movement.
The United Egg Producers allowed us to tour Morning Fresh Farms in Platteville, Colo., where they have both caged and cage-free operations on the premises.
Leghorn chickens are raised in the caged barns and Rhode Island Red hens are raised in the cage-free operation. Both operations have feed that is brought to the birds on conveyor belts and automatic watering systems. The farm also has generators so in the case of a storm the system keeps running.
The barns were also temperature controlled and the lighting systems are also operated and controlled by computer.
Gene Gregory, United Egg Producers president, is adamant that the UEP keep up the fight.
“We don’t know if we have the resources to fight it. But I can promise you we won’t quit the fight,” said Gregory.
“Animal agriculture is coming together to fight but we don’t have the political power or money. We are in the business of being producers, not fighters.”
Gregory said he had just returned from a meeting of the International Egg Commission and it is clear the United States ballot initiatives are being watched in the by other countries.
Imports. The European Union has already passed laws and is working to get more animal friendly laws in place by 2012. Already, the European Union is seeing an increase of imported eggs and the full regulations are not yet in place. The reason is other countries without the regulations are still able to produce eggs cheaper.
The guidelines for caged birds require them to be kept in 116-square inch “furnished cages,” which include a scratching area, a feed and watering area, a perching area and a laying area.
Gregory made it clear that countries such as Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil are waiting for the chance to get into the U.S. market. Currently, the U.S. egg market is self-sustaining;, there are few imports of eggs into the U.S. and very little going out.
One study has the cost of eggs to producers climbing 25 percent if California-like regulations are passed in Ohio, which some at the conference thought was a conservative estimate.
“Society does not understand what animal agriculture is up against in regards to the HSUS,” Gregory said. “The egg industry is willing to do the right things, but we are up against a huge gorilla.”
There are several factors to consider if egg producers are forced to adapt to a cage-free system. One is the initial investment required.
Thomas Early, executive vice president, Promar International, was hired to determine how much of an impact the proposed changes in animal welfare regulations would have on California’s egg industry.
Early estimates at least $7.5 billion would be required to convert the whole industry to a cage-free system.
In addition, there are several environmental factors that have to be looked at as well. These include the 15 percent increase in feed use for the birds, which means an additional 580,000 acres of corn and soybeans would be needed here in the United States.
“If we get out of the cage business and go to cage-free, we are going to use up huge amounts of land and create even more environmental problems,” Gregory stated.