Egg Farmers of Canada has rolled out a plan to transition the entire Canadian egg industry away from traditional caged housing.
“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, EFC chair, in a statement on Friday morning.
Currently about 90 percent of Canadian egg production is in conventional housing with the other 10 percent coming from enriched housing (larger, furnished hen spaces), free-run, aviary or free range systems. Under the transition plan, the industry would reach a 50-50 balance in eight years, with a shift to 85 percent alternative housing in 15 years. Assuming current market projections, EFC says all production would be in enriched or cage-free housing by 2036 (a 20-year timeframe.)
Market conditions, affordability for consumers, worker conditions, pullet rearing and other supply chain factors were all considered in forming the plan, explains West Lincoln, Ontario egg farmer and EFC vice-chair Roger Pelissero in the interview below.
He notes the typical lifespan for a cage system is around 20 years. “We have different ages of housing systems and based on the timelines we’ve seen, knowing the age of the houses, about 50 percent of the housing will be transitioning in less than eight years.” (continues below)
Recommended read: The Insanely Complicated Logistics of Cage-Free Eggs for All (on Wired.com)
Hens are housed in groups (16 to over 60 per cage) with more space than traditional cages (116 sq inches/hen vs 67 sq inches/hen). Each unit features a nest box and “furnishings” that allow for natural behaviours such as perching, scratching, foraging, dust bathing and nesting. EFC says benefits of enriched housing 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.”
Meanwhile, the list of restaurant and food service chains committed to sourcing eggs based on hen housing conditions continues to grow, with parent companies for Tim Hortons, Burger King, Harvey’s, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey’s, and East Side Mario’s all making announcements in the last week.
EFC says it’s hoping to have a discussion with stakeholders about the benefits of enriched systems, as some restaurant chains are looking for eggs from enriched housing, while others, including McDonald’s, are choosing to go with completely “cage-free” eggs.
“It’s all about choices, and at the end of the day, you have your food service organizations that use quite a few eggs, but the majority of our egg buyers are our average daily consumers,” notes Pelissero. “We want to keep choice in place and we will produce the types of eggs that people want to buy.”
A third generation egg farmer, Pelissero says he remembers collecting eggs off the floor.
“We moved our hens into conventional housing systems because scientific research showed it was healthier for them,” he says. “So as we move forward, we’ll continue to adapt housing systems that allow choice for consumers, but also take into consideration animal health, animal behaviour habits and the concerns of our families working on our farms.”
Related: McDonald’s Commits to Cage-Free Eggs
Editor’s note: This story was updated with quotes and interview above with Roger Pelissero.