“Purely banning eggs from one egg production system is misguided,” said James Kellaway, managing director of the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL), about the “Can the cage” campaign by Animals Australia.
“The decision should be a consumer’s, based on their personal choice and budget. Families shouldn’t be manipulated by activists, such as Animals Australia, and retailers such as Coles.”
According to AECL, caged eggs account for 55% of the retail egg market—the rest coming from barn and free range sources. The AECL claims that this figure illustrates the demand among consumers for caged eggs and highlights the need for clear labelling so they can make informed purchasing decisions.
Science before emotion
“Just like Animals Australia, AECL fully supports greater welfare outcomes for all of our laying hens but we believe science should lead the way, not emotion or self-interest,” continued Kellaway. “As such, we have invested more than $10 million over 10 years in research and development into better welfare for hens and this investment will continue.”
He pointed to research by Sydney University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science that found that caged hens are no more stressed than free range or barn hens.
“We should be listening to science rather than emotion when making decisions about ensuring Australians have access to affordable and nutritious eggs,” Kellaway added.
Earlier this week, Coles had announced that it would be taking steps to remove caged animals and their products from its stock inventory. As well as bringing forward its commitment to phase out sow stalls in all its home brand pork, ham and bacon products by a year, the supermarket said it would stop selling its own caged eggs from New Year.
Coles claimed the moves came as a response to increased consumer demand for more responsibly sourced products and would see “350,000 hens freed from cages”.
Coles merchandise director John Durkan announced the news at the Coles-sponsored National Farmers Federation annual congress in Canberra, saying: “Our customers told us that they want quality food that is responsibly sourced and great value.”
Since the announcement, Coles has also cut the price of its free range eggs, and it claims that sales of these have increased by more than 50 per cent, and overtaken caged-egg sales.
However, this goes against Kellaway’s belief that a ban on caged eggs would drive up the overall cost of eggs. “If the cage-egg farming system was banned and all eggs were produced in lower-density free-range egg production systems, egg prices would go through the roof,” he said.
Predictably, Animals Australia is delighted with Coles’ move. “[We] applaud Coles’ commitment to improving animal welfare in its supply chains,” the group said in a release.
Woolworths has since been drawn into the mix by announcing the withdrawal of its own-brand caged eggs across Australia.
Editor’s note: Banning caged chickens will likely have a profound effect on the egg industry across Australia. Is such a move required? Or do you think that AECL’s claims are valid and caged-egg production should continue? Is the move by Coles and Woolworths no more than a PR stunt, or is the removal of cages vital for the good of the animals. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.