Cage-free eggs: a PR battle or concern for animal welfare?

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To a lot of consumers, cage-free eggs probably seem like they are the best thing ever. Almost every week another restaurant or retailer is pledging to transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply, but these complex decisions have more implications for food costs, supply chain logistics and even animal welfare than many realize.

A one-sided story in the media

It’s not hard to understand where many people get the idea that cage-free egg production is ideal. The news coverage of the cage-free movement is picturesque. Animal rights organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals, are often quoted as claiming they “worked with” the company and want to express their appreciation for a “step in the right direction” for animal well-being.

What is often left out of the story is how those groups try to influence companies in their decisions to go cage-free.

Activist pressure, praise and repeat

Animal rights groups are notorious for “pressure campaigns.” They target a consumer-facing brand, restaurant or retailer with an often misleading campaign which aims to put the company in a spotlight as being supportive of animal mistreatment. With sales and a reputation on the line, the company needs the negative attention to cease.

The Humane League, another animal rights organization, placed an online ad for a “Kroger Campaign Organizer” to launch a pressure campaign against the grocery by motivating “local consumers to boycott their Kroger and Kroger subsidiary locations.”

Mercy for Animals recently launched a pressure campaign against Safeway. One of their tactics included a snapchat asking their followers to “politely ask why Safeway continues to torture egg-laying hens in tiny cages when Trader Joe’s, Target, CVS and Costco have committed to going 100 percent cage-free.” The message included the Safeway CEO’s name and a phone number. Less than a week later the Albertson’s Companies (one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States which includes Safeway) announced they would be going 100 percent cage-free by 2025.

To think that activist pressure will cease once a pledge is made is just not the case. Animal rights groups pressure a restaurant or retailer to change their sourcing policies, then praise them once a new policy is announced only to repeat and pressure the food company again. They either argue that the food company isn’t moving fast enough and demand a quicker timeline or argue that cage-free isn’t enough and hens need to be raised on pasture.

Shouldn’t science have a say?

Many of the recent policy announcements are based on animal rights activist demands and what some consumers think is best.  Letting hens out of cages sounds like a rational decision for animal welfare, but many fail to address what science says is best.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply is a multi-stakeholder group made up of leading animal welfare scientists, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, and restaurant and food retail companies. The Coalition conducted a three-year study to evaluate various laying hen housing systems by considering the impact of multiple variables on a sustainable system. The three types of housing evaluated were: conventional cages, cage-free aviary and enriched colony cages. The research assessed five areas of sustainability: animal health and well-being, food safety and quality, environmental impact, worker health and safety, and food affordability.

The final results revealed that in regards to animal health and well-being, cage-free has substantially worse cannibalism/aggression and keel (extension of the breastbone) damage compared to both conventional and enriched colony systems. Both cage-free and enriched colony have better tibia/humerus strength and feather and foot conditions compared to hens raised in conventional cages and the enriched colony proved to have the lowest mortality rate compared to both the conventional and cage-free systems.

In terms of worker health and safety, the cage-free had substantially worse particulate matter exposure and endotoxin exposure compared to the conventional cages and enriched colony. For the environmental aspect, the enriched colony has substantially better ammonia emissions, while the cage-free has substantially worse indoor air quality and particulate matter emissions with slightly worse natural resource use efficiency.

Bird health, worker safety and product sustainability are complex topics, and reducing them down to just cage size is an extreme oversimplification. Instead of following the commitment to continuous improvement based on science and selecting the solution that works best for their individual operation, most egg farmers are being forced to switch to cage-free systems with risk of being dropped by their buyer if they don’t comply. This would understandably frustrate any farmer.

Take action and stand with science 

Farmers and ranchers are not only committed to continuous improvement, but they also hold the experience of caring for their animals every single day. They work tirelessly to provide a safe, affordable and nutritious food supply for people who take it for granted.

Some animal rights groups may act like they have the best intentions in mind, but in reality they are only moving our society towards a more vegetarian and vegan way of life. They want prices to increase and eventually take milk, meat and eggs off your plate for good.

Whether you are a restaurant, retailer or consumer, I challenge you to stand with science, not animal rights extremists.



  1. just like what the animal rights people did by getting horse slaughter outlawed in the US- made the ordeal much worse for horses…with no market they are abandoned and starve, or they take longer rides, jammed together to Canada or Mexico (where they are cruelly killed.) thanks animal rights jerks. a few of you decide which is best for everyone then use the media to get your way…you are nothing but bullies. they got elephants out of the circus and now pressuring to get orcas out of seaworld…PETA has already decided owning any kind of pet is wrong and in time that will be outlawed.

  2. Enjoyed your article. How do I stand up for science in their battle against the misguided intentions of animal rights extremists and the press.


  3. Hi there,
    I have recently started a campaign about educating consumers about the differences in the labelling practices of eggs. I love your article, it takes a perspective on the situation that I have rarely considered. For me personally it is always down to a battle between price and quality especially as a student, although I won’t be changing a whole industry. I would love to hear what some people that are passionate about the topic have to say. There are a few interesting facts on my blog once you delve into it and I’m sure there could be something there for everyone. I would love it if anyone interested could give it a look or even use it as a forum to voice their thoughts!

    1. Hello!
      Thank you for reading my blog and reaching out! I think it’s great that you’re interested in educating consumers about their food choices. It is something I am very passionate about as well! I visited your blog and there are a couple things I’d like to share with you about how farmers raise hens that provide protein-packed eggs to feed families. First, I noticed that you ranked the housing types starting with “least humane.” No matter what type of housing the hens are raised in, whether it is cage-free, conventional or enriched colony, it does not determine the level of animal care they receive. You see, all farmers have an ethical obligation to care for animals raised for food, and they take that responsibility seriously. Second, I noticed one of your sources is an animal rights group. I encourage you to do more research from the true source about how farmers care for their animals – the farmers themselves and the groups that help share farmers’ stories. I’ve included some links below for you to explore. Let me know if you have any other questions!!

      1. Thanks for the insights!
        For the campaign I am attempting to keep it Australia wide only, some of our laws and the ways we have approached the issue have been pretty quirky and unconventional so it has made it a little tougher on the research front.
        Thank you for the assistance!

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