Making sure chickens have a better life, to get better eggs


  • Animals
  • Thursday, 12 Dec 2019

Fresh eggs ready for shipping. A new law in Michigan will prohibit the sale of noncage-free eggs by December 2024. — TNS

The US state of Michigan is on its way to making sure the state’s chickens have a slightly better life.

A measure signed into law recently by Lt Gov Garland Gilchrist requires that all egg-laying hens in Michigan be kept in cage-free systems, and prohibiting the sale of non-cage-free eggs by December 2024.

That makes Michigan the largest egg-producing state in the United States to adopt cage-free legislation. Other states already on board are California, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Michigan has eight family-owned and operated egg farms that care for more than 15 million hens, according to the Michigan Allied Poultry Industries. West Michigan is home to 95% of Michigan’s egg farms.

Free-range chickens are not housed in enclosures and have access to the outdoors whereas cage-free means that the chooks are not kept in cages although they are generally still confined, often in a barn. — 123rf.comFree-range chickens are not housed in enclosures and have access to the outdoors whereas cage-free means that the chooks are not kept in cages although they are generally still confined, often in a barn. — 123rf.com

“Michigan is known for having one of the most diverse agricultural and farming industries in the nation, ” said Gilchrist in a news release. “This will ensure that our standards are among the strongest in the nation when it comes to protecting animal welfare while ensuring that egg producers are able to continue to thrive.”

So, what does cage-free mean?

It means just that – chickens are not kept in cages. But the chickens generally still are confined, often in a barn.

That’s not the same thing as free-range chickens, where the birds can roam around outdoors.

For years, all consumers had to worry about when it came to buying eggs was deciding between small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo-sized eggs.

Today, there’s a dizzying array of messages on egg cartons from cage-free to free-range to organic, which consumers need a code to crack. And cage-free eggs generally cost more than conventional eggs.

Commitment to using cage-free eggs is a growing trend. In April 2019, McDonald’s USA announced they’ve made progress towards sourcing 100% cage-free eggs by 2025. They are now 33% cage-free. And this year, they will have sourced more than 726 million cage-free eggs for US restaurants. Kroger stores expect to source 100% cage-free by 2025.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development welcomed the new law.

“The package of bills not only addresses the provisions around egg-laying hens in the state, but it also provides the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development with key disease emergency response tools which are critical for protecting public and animal health, ” said the agency’s director Gary McDowell. “I appreciate everyone who came to the table to develop policy that moves the state forward.”

Know your eggs

Here are egg terms according to the American Egg Board, the Egg Nutrition Center and the United States Department of Agriculture:

Cage-free: These eggs are laid by hens not housed in enclosures and allowed to roam freely. Hens roam in a building, room or open area that includes nesting space and perches. The USDA says hens must have access to fresh food and water. They also must be allowed to exhibit natural behaviours and include enrichment such as scratch areas, perches and nests. Hens must have access to litter, protection from predators and be able to move in a barn in a manner that promotes bird welfare.

Pasture-raised: Laid by hens who roam and forage on a maintained pasture area. The USDA does not recognise a labelling definition for pastured eggs as no standards are established.

Free-range: Laid by hens not housed in enclosures and with access to the outdoors. These hens eat grains but also forage for wild plants and insects. The USDA says these hens must be able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses and have access to fresh food and water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. But the outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material.

Conventional eggs: These are laid by hens in enclosures that also serve as nesting space.

Certified organic: Laid by cage-free or free-range hens raised on certified organic feed and have access to the outdoors. The feed is grown without most synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilisers and 100% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic. – Tribune News Service/ Detroit Free Press/ Susan Selasky


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