Friday, February 05, 2016

Poultry to get a little more room

In a tiny victory for animal rights and ethical food production, the Egg Farmers of Canada, which represents about 90% of Canada's egg producers, has pledged to phase out, over the next 20 years, so-called "battery cages" (the current system where hens live their entire lives in bare cages about the size of a standard sheet of paper, too small for them to spread their wings or even turn around). The decision comes, they say, "in response to the best available scientific research and in light of changing consumer preferences".
But, before you get too excited, bear in mind that 20 years is a long time (almost twice as long as the EU allowed for a similar transition), and exactly what it will be replaced with is still far from clear. The odds are that a "furnished" or "enriched" cage system will probably win out, which means that the birds will get a little more space to move around in, and - halllujah! - access to perches and nesting spaces. But they are still very much stuck in individual cages - don't be fooled into thinking that this is anything like free run (where hens share open concept barn conditions that allow them to exercise and socialize) or free range (where, in addition, they have access to the outdoors).
The EFC decision follows similar pledges from the European Union and at least two states in the US, and also from several popular and influential companies such as McDonald's, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Tim Horton's, Burger King, Wendy's, Harvey’s, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey’s and East Side Mario’s.
It is estimated that the enriched system increases costs by about 13% (free run, or cage-free, eggs apparently cost around 36% more), although you can bet that producers and retailers will increase supermarket prices by significantly more that that.
A small victory perhaps, but maybe an acknowledgement of the Zeitgeist, and a step in the right direction nevertheless. Who knows, in 40 years' time they may even give them toys to play with...

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