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HSUS Crowing Over Conversion to Cage Free

01/29/2021

In a January 28th release, Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) listed companies converting entirely to cage-free sourcing of eggs.  These include Nestle, Mondelez, both manufacturers; Aramark, a food service company; QSR chain Arby's and coffee chains under JAB ownership.

 

Collectively these companies represent a small proportion of total shell egg and egg liquid demand. Unlike retailers with narrow margins and faced with competition these users of eggs are in a position to pass on increased costs to customers.

 

Other companies including Compass Group, a food service supplier; General Mills, a food producer and Blooming Brands, operator of casual dining restaurants anticipate conversion by 2023.

 

It is a matter of record that currently 79.8 million hens out of a total population of a nominal 320 million in production are housed in alternative systems to cages including barns and aviaries.  This represents 25 percent of the production flock, but 35.2 percent of a presumed flock of 224 million producing for the shell egg market. In reality progress in converting from cage to cage- free slowed in the second half of 2020 mainly due to depressed prices associated with the retraction in the food service and restaurant sectors.  Eat-at-home has increased demand for shell eggs, but prevailing economic conditions favor generic eggs based on price.  The HSUS should recognize that while most people would support cage-free production, they are not willing to back this sentiment with their wallets.

 

EGG-NEWS is in favor of the principle of choice with a range of products reflecting housing systems as diverse as traditional cages, colony modules, barns, aviaries through to pasture with consumers exercising their best judgment in selection applying trade-offs with concern over “welfare” and price.

 

Organic production that represents approximately 17 million hens or 20 percent of non-caged flocks are by definition non-caged with nominal outside access. Apart from this category ballot initiatives in California and New England states and State agreements have driven conversion to cage-free housing.  The initial efforts by HSUS and kindred organizations to coerce food service companies, retailers and manufactures to convert to cage-free under the direction of Wayne Pacelle, erstwhile CEO of HSUS appear to have lost impact.

 

Reconciliation of USDA monthly cage-free reports and retail data suggests that as many as a third of organic and cage-free eggs may in fact be down-marketed and sold as generics given the disparity between supply and consumers’ willingness to pay. The rate of conversion to cage-free housing is now out of the control of the HSUS and has devolved into a rational marketing situation. Some affluent demographics with disposable income will be willing to pay a premium for eggs derived from a specific system. The bulk of consumers with budget constraints should not be forced to pay a “Pacelle Tax” by being deprived of lower priced eggs on the shelf.