Battery cage opponents emboldened by success

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
WASHINGTON D.C., LONDON–Years used to
pass between Humane Society of the U.S.
announcements of progress on behalf of
battery-caged egg-laying hens. In mid-October
2006 two such announcements came just 24 hours
apart.
Nineteen years after HSUS upset consumers
and donors with a short-lived “breakfast of
cruelty” campaign against bacon and eggs, a
younger generation of consumers and donors is
responding enthusiastically to a similar message.
About 95% of total U.S. egg production
comes from battery caged hens, but that could
change fast.
Under comparable campaign pressure,
British caged egg producers have already lost 40%
of the market, the research firm Mintel reported
in August 2006 to the Department of the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Demand for
cage-free eggs has increased 31% since 2002,
Mintel found.


The findings were published just as the
British Egg Industry Council asked the European
Parliament to delay implementing the European
Laying Hens Directive 1999, banning the sale of
battery cage-produced eggs in Europe after 2012.
By then, producers are required to use
larger cages, including perches, a nest, and
litter on the floor. Seemingly small as the
changes are, the British Egg Industry Council
claims they cannot be met without the cost
causing a severe drop in productivity.
A somewhat double-edged example is
reportedly under government investigation in
Australia. “Data suggests that the number of
free-range hens in the country could only produce
about 80% of the eggs that are labeled as such,”
summarized Farmed Animal Watch. “Currently, 15%
of eggs marketed to Australian consumers are
labeled as having come from free-ranging hens.”
Commented Royal SPCA of Australia
president Hugh Wirth, “There is enough
circumstantial evidence to worry everybody,
including the RSPCA, because we have an
accreditation scheme. Our good name is on the
carton.”
Unclear is whether the issue is simply
that demand for cage-free eggs is rising faster
than the supply, or that the industry is being
intentionally duplicitous instead of replacing
battery cages.
Egg industry analysts believe U.S.
consumers will follow the British and Australian
examples. The only question is how rapidly the
transition will occur.
On October 17, 2006, responding to the
development that may make U.S. egg producers most
anxious, the Humane Society of the U.S. praised
the Associated Residence Halls at the University
of Iowa for making permanent their spring 2006
introduction of cage-free eggs at three dining
facilities that cumulatively use more than one
million eggs per year.
“In advance of the vote, the university
hosted an on-campus discussion with presentations
by both HSUS, in favor of a cage-free egg
policy, and the Iowa Egg Council, against it,”
HSUS noted. “Both the Iowa City Press-Citizen
and Daily Iowan editorialized in favor of the
cage-free egg policy.”
That came in the middle of the U.S. agricultural heartland.
A day later, on October 18, HSUS
praised Wild Oats Community Market for dropping
sales of eggs from battery-caged hens.
“Major grocery chains such as Whole Foods
Market and Wild Oats Natural Marketplace have
stopped selling cage eggs,” HSUS recited.
“Trader Joe’s has converted its private line eggs
to cage-free. Bon Appétit, a major food service
company, is phasing out the use of cage eggs in
all of its 400 cafés. Frozen dessert maker Ben &
Jerry’s is also phasing out the use of cage eggs
in its ice creams. Even companies such as AOL
and Google have ended the use of cage eggs in
their employee cafeterias.
“Tufts University, the Massachus-etts
Institute of Technology, Marist College, Vassar
College, Roger Williams University, Clark
University, Lesley University, Emman-uel
College, and the University of New Hampshire
have joined 100 others across the country in
enacting policies to eliminate or greatly reduce
their use of cage eggs,” HSUS added.
Ben & Jerry’s, using about 2.7 million
pounds of egg yolks per year, told Associated
Press writer Wilson Ring that completing the
conversion to cage-free will take about four
years, while producers revamp their systems to
meet the new requirements.
“We’re pleased to include free-range eggs
in our European ice cream,” Ben & Jerry’s London
affiliate said, “but we have not yet found an
economically manageable way to do the same for
our U.S. production.”
Founded in 1978 by Vermont entrepreuers
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Ben & Jerry’s
was purchased in 2000 by the Dutch-based Unilever
conglomerate. In earlier gestures toward
improved animal welfare, Ben & Jerry’s quit
buying milk from cows whose production has been
stimulated by the hormone drug bovine
somatotropin (BST), and in August 2006 quit
buying eggs from Michael Foods at HSUS request.
Ben & Jerry’s dropped Michael Foods two
months after HSUS marketing outreach coordinator
Erin Williams disclosed hidden camera video of
alleged abuses at a Michael Foods battery cage
facility in Wakefield, Nebraska.
The video showed “live hens confined in
cages with decomposing birds, hens unable to
untangle themselves [after becoming] caught in
the wire cages, sick and injured hens, and
immobilized hens dying from starvation, only
inches away from food and water,” Williams told
Sioux City Journal staff writer Bret Hayworth.
“Michael Foods supplies eggs to
Pillsbury, Hellmann’s, Kraft, and Hostess,”
Hayworth wrote.
For several years the egg industry seemed
inclined to try to dodge consumer pressure by
merely changing the labels on egg cartons. That
strategy ran into legal trouble.
“A certification program must not be
promoted in a way that misleads consumers,”
warned District of Columbia attorney general
Robert J. Spagnoletti in September 2006,
announcing an agreement between United Egg
Producers and 16 states under which the egg
producers agreed to permanently quit printing the
slogan “Animal Care Certified” on egg boxes, and
to pay the states $100,000 toward the costs of
legal fees and consumer education.
United Egg Producers in November 2005
suspended use of “Animal Care Certified” after
Compassion Over Killing complained to the Federal
Trade Commission that it was deceptive.
Participants in the labeling program now use the
phrase “United Egg Producers Certified.”
In a parallel case, the Philadelphia
activist group Hugs For Puppies in May 2006 won
an agreement that Kreider Farms will change web
site advertisements claiming Kreider laying hens
are “happy and well-treated” to state that the
hens are “contented and well-treated.” Brokered
by the Better Business Bureau, the agreement was
not disclosed until late August.
The difference in the wording may not
seem large, but “marks the first time that the
bureau has ruled against an agricultural
enterprise for claiming its animals are happy,”
Hugs For Puppies director Nick Cooney told
Patrick Burns of the Lancaster Intelligencer
Journal. “The claim of ‘happy and well-treated
hens’ is not only way out of line with the
scientific evidence, but also with what the
overwhelming majority of Americans consider to be
humane treatment,” Cooney added.
“A Hugs For Puppies member pleaded guilty
earlier this year to trespassing at Kreider Farms
when he videotaped conditions inside one of the
company’s chicken houses,” Burns mentioned.
Activist Chris Price was arrested in March.
Repeatedly stung by hidden-camera
investigations, the egg industry has pursued
strengthened penalties for trespassing, citing
concern that intruders might introduce or spread
poultry diseases, and has tried to keep cases
out of court if they might result in wider
exposure of conditions.
In Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, a
high-profile prosecution of Esbenshade Farms
chief executive H. Glenn Esbenshade and farm
manager Jay Musser for alleged cruelty to
chickens was suspended on August 6, 2006 after
the prosecution and defense agreed to seek a
negotiated settlement.
“Elizabethtown District Judge Jayne F.
Duncan heard about five and a half hours of
testimony from two of the four witnesses the
prosecution planned to present,” reported Martha
Raffaele of Associated Press, “and then
attorneys for both sides spent more than an hour
in private conference with their clients. After
the hearing, neither side’s lawyers would say why
they chose to negotiate a settlement instead of
continuing with the trial.”
HSUS funded the prosecution, by
permission of the Lancaster County District
Attorney. The evidence reportedly consisted
chiefly of undercover video made by activist John
Brothers, while employed by Esbenshade Farms.

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