Cage-free egg farms are producing more eggs than consumers are willing to buy, according to the CEO of the country’s largest supermarket egg producer.
“Right now, there is a much greater demand for commodity eggs at these low prices than there is for cage-free eggs,” Cal-Maine Foods CEO Dolph Baker said at a conference earlier this month, noting that private egg producers are currently operating at a loss.
The switch to cage-free eggs is one of the biggest changes currently taking place in American agriculture. After McDonald’s committed to transitioning to cage-free eggs in 2015, most major retailers followed suit, including Walmart and Costco, leading to what most assumed would be a de facto end of battery-cage-produced eggs in the United States.
According to Josh Balk, senior food policy director of farm animal protection for the Humane Society, the transition away from battery cages and toward cage-free eggs was “likely the most dramatic positive development for farm animals in U.S. history.”
However, cage-free egg production is not meeting the consumer success that was originally expected. While the entire egg industry is currently producing a surplus of eggs across the board, cage-free eggs, which are generally more than $1 more expensive than battery cage-raised eggs, are experiencing proportionally worse sales than conventional.
“Some industry observers say the number of hens needs to be reduced by 6 to 8 million before supply realigns with demand and prices begin rising,” reports Buzzfeed.
This is not the only issue currently plaguing the cage-free egg industry. The overwhelming number of supermarket and restaurant chains throughout the country committing to cage-free eggs has required a quick conversion to cage-free production that not all farmers are educated or informed enough to carry out correctly.
“Mobility brings with it a new set of concerns for chickens’ welfare that most farmers have never confronted,” reports the Washington Post, citing a 2015 study of three different hen-housing systems that found that mortality was highest among birds in cage-free aviaries. Experts agree that new cage-free systems will require a steep learning curve to ensure the welfare of the birds.
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