Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Selective Carnivore

In this post, Tyler Cowen describes the relationship between animal welfare and shifting consumption among meat, dairy, and the like. His analysis is very similar to Chapter 8 of my upcoming book where I model the link between dairy, poultry, beef, veal, and egg consumption and animal welfare. My model agrees with Cowen in that replacing beef with milk and cheese may lead to a reduction in animal welfare. I even find that replacing cage eggs with cage-free eggs could also reduce animal welfare. I believe I'm more optimistic about the lives of dairy cows than Tyler, despite the recent undercover PETA video.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ag Economist in Locovre Movie

Below is an article describing the appearance of an agricultural economist in a movie describing the local food movement. Discussion of local foods should be grouped according to whether it occurs because people like the local food better or because they think they are providing benefits to their local community. The former simply represents a shift in preferences, while the latter represents a subsidy that can only make the community as a whole poorer.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - An agricultural economist at Oregon State University has hit the silver screen in a new documentary that examines and promotes the local food movement and that will show in Portland starting on Friday. In the film "Ingredients<>," Larry Lev discusses the benefits and costs of buying food from local producers. He says that although some local products may cost more than food transported from large-scale commercial operations, the extra expense can be worth it. The taste can be superior, and the money shoppers spend stays in the area and contributes to the vitality of the community, he says. By shopping locally, people are also keeping agricultural land from being developed and they're establishing close relationships with farmers and fellow consumers, he adds.

"In the end, it comes down to choices. Price is one aspect that consumers take into account, but it's not the only one and often not the most important one," says Lev, who was filmed on campus.

Lev, who has worked at OSU for 25 years, specializes in agricultural marketing and alternative food systems. He also works with colleagues in the OSU Extension Service's Small Farms Program to develop and strengthen farmers' markets. He was asked to appear in the documentary because he had worked with one of the members of the film crew on various projects, including workshops to match chefs with farmers.

"Larry gave us a lot of great information to work with," said the film's producer and cinematographer, Brian Kimmel, who lives in Portland. "The most important thing he did was describe how this whole economics system works with the local food movement. A lot of the people are looking at this and saying, 'Yes, this is something we want but it's too expensive.' Larry's experience shows otherwise. It was great to have Larry to fall back on and say, 'This does make sense and here's how.'"

"Ingredients," which premiered in Germany and won a Silver Sierra Award in the documentary category at this year's Yosemite Film Festival, shows the farmers and chefs around the country who are revitalizing the connection between food and the land. It features diversified farms of the Willamette and Hudson River valleys, the urban food deserts of Harlem, and the kitchen of Alice Waters.

In addition to Lev, other Oregonians featured in the film include: Portland chefs Greg Higgins and Pascal Sauton; Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston; John Eveland of Gathering Together Farm in Philomath; Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed, also in Philomath; farmer Laura Masterson of 47th Avenue Farm in Portland; John Neumeister of Cattail Creek Lamb in Junction City; farmers Sheldon Marcuvitz and Carole Laity of Your Kitchen Garden in Canby; Shari Sirkin of Dancing Roots Farm in Troutdale; and former Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad.

To buy a DVD or find out how to organize a screening of the film in your community, go to the "Ingredients: A Documentary Film" Web site<>.

HT: Henry Bahn

Feedstuffs Editorial

In an editorial titled Animal Welfare Cannot Break Down the authors argue that violations of animal welfare standards has to stop (a phrase they repeat many times) immediately because, "it leaves the consuming public with a bad taste in its mouth for dairy, meat and poultry products."

Perhaps, but I think the average person is a bit more sophisticated that this, and will make their decisions based on what they think the average farm looks like, not the unusual farm that happens to get caught doing bad things on tape.

Every day thousands of children are abused in myriad ways by evil parents, friends, family members, and such. Yet we do not prohibit the raising of children for these reasons. We know that if we allow people to have children that some will be abused, just as we know that if we raise animals for food (or keep animals as pets) some will be abused.

But then, these videos may alter what consumers believe to be the "average" farm. The authors acknowledge this when they say, "breakdowns, to consumers now, represent standard operating procedure."

Happy Dairy Cows

This nice video takes you on a tour of a dairy farm and the importance placed on farm animal welfare. I don't believe the profit-motive is a necessary condition for humane animal production, but that it depends on the particular animal species. Dairy, beef, and chicken production are, in my opinion, industries that generally provide acceptable animal welfare. My definition of "acceptable" is that the animals have a life worth living, even if their lives could be improved. Because their lives are mostly pleasant, one could consider it ethical to consume beef, dairy, and chicken products. But don't take it from me. Research the farms yourself.

Farewell To Gestation Stalls in Michigan

My Feedstuffs news alerts told me that Michigan is expected to pass a law banning gestation crates. The events leading up to this are similar to the Colorado story: HSUS threatens a referendum, livestock producers don't want the negative publicity that would bring, both groups negotiate a long time horizon (10 years) to implement the ban in order to minimize the economic burden, and legislation banning the crates ensues. Battery cages and veal crates will also be banned.

What is the impact of the ban? My research suggests that the cost of pork production will rise $0.0533 per lb of retail pork. The demand side of the ban is more difficult to identify, and ultimately ambiguous. Jayson Lusk and I have conducted hundreds of real-pork auctions across the country and have found that consumers, on average, will pay up to $0.14 more for each lb of retail pork that is raised in group pens, which is the alternative to gestation crates. Thus, at first glance, the ban would provide a net benefit of $0.0867 for society as a whole.

However, one cannot simply say that demand for pork will increase. The gestation crate ban could change consumers' perceptions of pork, and ultimately decrease the total ban for pork. It is true that consumers on average prefer pork produced without gestation crates, but the information that a ban provides could produce a pork demand that is lower or higher than the current demand. That is, consumers prefer that gestation crates not be used, but after learning that gestation crates were used in the first place may begin to think hog production is inhumane. Or, they may conclude that hog production is humane and becoming even more humane. We simply don't know.

The ultimate impact of the gestation crate ban is thus ambiguous. However, my best guess is that, with this type of legislation, pork demand will be unaltered, consumers will be largely unaware of the improvement, and, and hog producers will make less money.

Of course, that analysis pretends that Michigan is a closed economy. In reality the gestation stall ban allows the importation of pork produced under any means. Consumers will undoubtedly choose the cheaper pork produced in other states, and so the impact of the legislation on farm animals will depend on whether the Michigan farmers can stay in business. If they remain in business, then the animals will be raised on what is presumably a more humane farm. Michigan farmers will pay the higher production costs themselves. Consumers will not pay a dime more. If they go out of business, roughly the same amount of pork will be produced, but out-of-state; and the only impact the law will have is to drive Michigan farmers out-of-business.

Other people have some interesting views on gestation crates...
  • Trent Loos and other producers and animal scientists (I only use Loos' name because he is rather famous) believe that banning gestation crates will not improve animal welfare, and may lower welfare.
  • Gary Francione (just Google the name if you don't know him) often asserts that every time you improve animal welfare the farmers' costs actually go down. In this case, hog producers would be surprised to find that their costs are lower than when they used the crates.
  • The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) would probably argue that banning gestation crates is fine, but we should really be going much further and producing more pork under the Animal Welfare Approved label. Personally, I concur with the AWI.

About Foie Gras

A recent article on the interesting blog Food & Think (a blog worth adding to your reader, by the way) concerned Foie-Gras and a book being written about the issue. I had always assumed Foie-Gras to be a pretty cruel food, but the author states....

Unlike on some Canadian and French farms, the ducks in this country are kept in group pens rather than individual cages during the 3- to 4-week gavage period, and, from the evidence Caro presents, the force-feeding doesn’t seem to harm the birds or cause them terrible distress.

surprised me. Force-feeding not causing the birds distress? Sounds a bit suspect, but I'm open to the idea. I know that I have heard people claim other industries (e.g. cattle) to be a cruel production process, but from my extensive experience and research in the area find it to be otherwise, so perhaps Foie-Gras is better than its reputation? Is it better than hog production, for example?

Which would an animal prefer, living in a group pen but being force-fed or leaving in an individual cage barely larger than the animals' body and not being force-fed? I know what you're thinking -you'd rather have better choices than these two! Understandable :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How Real Bloggers Work

I've always wondered how "real" bloggers stay on top of everything so well. For example, Troy Hardick at Advocates for Agriculture seems to find every single article related to agriculture that exists, and finds it before anyone else can.

I was curious, so I asked Troy how he does it. In addition to establishing a network of followers who forward him articles, he has up to 50 Google Alerts established. Staying on top of 50 Google Alerts is much work, so be sure not to take your favorite blogs for granted.

Ham and Eggonomics, by the way, is not a "real" blog, and I am no "real" blogger, but am amateur.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Gary Francione Podcast

Gary Francione now has a podcast that has issued several shows already. Another podcast that I have not listened to but looks interesting is NZ Vegan. Both are podcasts from the abolitionist movement.

A podcast that occasionally addresses the farm animal welfare issue from a different perspective is Loos Tales for Feedstuffs by Trent Loos. Loos Tales may sound like it is an industry construct but Mr. Loos is perfectly sincere and would be doing the exact same thing without his sponsors. I know Mr. Loos, and he has already spent a personal fortune spreading his message.

All three podcasts are from knowledgeable individuals whose passion I'm sure will be felt by the listener. All podcasts are recommended.

The Term "Franchises" - A Silly Idea

In previous posts I have labeled movements on all side of the farm animal welfare issue as franchises, in an attempt to articulate the public choice theory aspect of any movement, but have now decided it was silly. As a researcher I like to experiment, which means you cannot pay attention to everything I say!

Follow-Up on Hen Mortality Posting

Sara Shields recently provided a superb post on the issue of mortality in cage and cage-free systems. I have argued that cage-free systems have higher mortality rates which pose a significant welfare problem. My take is that cage-free systems are better for the bird, but the mortality problem causes me to sympathize with those who argue otherwise. So, the question is, did Dr. Shields' posting, which showed low mortality rates are possible in a cage-free system, change my mind?

I have never doubted that cage-free systems can have low mortality if cost is of no concern. One could take a cage-free facility, reduce the flock size to five birds, and would have the highest animal welfare possible, but the eggs would be thousands of dollars each. The question concerns whether low mortality is possible in a cage-free system that produces eggs at a reasonable cost. Note that I am not requiring that the cost of production be equivalent to cage eggs or even the current cage-free egg price. Let us say that my definition of "reasonable" is $5 per dozen or lower. I sought the references Dr. Shields cited to determine if any of those met this criteria.

Stonegate Organic Columbian Blacktail Eggs - At current exchange rates their free-range eggs sell for $2.91 per dozen, which is actually quite inexpensive. We know from Sara's sources that cannibalism and pecking is not a problem on the farm, but they are free-range birds and we don't know if mortality rates are affected by predators. Readers of a previous post will note that in the presence of predators mortality rates can be as high as 25%. Can mortality rates and costs be simultaneously held to a reasonably low level? The verdict for these eggs are ambiguous.

Other Farms - the other sources did list the overall mortality rate, and it was very low. However they did not list their costs or prices, so it could be they are achieving low mortality but only at very high costs. Heaven's Farm have a mortality rate under 2% while only providing the birds with 86 square inches of housing area per hen and 172 square inches of "liveable" area (which I think includes the housing area). Compared to 67 square inches per bird in a cage system and 200 square inches for bird in some cage-free systems, that's a good deal of space but not a far stretch from traditional cage-free methods.

My verdict is as follows. Dr. Shield's posting gave me greater confidence that mortality can be low in a cage-free system, especially once technology begins to address the mortality problem with greater intensity. I also have greater confidence that humane egg production is possible while keeping the price of eggs under $5.00 per dozen. However, I still have a number of questions, and do not consider my "confidence" to be "certainty."

Use of Word "Franchise"

I often refer to all movements within the farm animal welfare debate as a franchise. I hope it does not offend anyone, as that is not the intent. Being an economist I am always searching for economic principles underlying behavior, including behavior of individuals within an idealogical movement.

Livestock farmers find a sincere meaning in life through their work, which is why many farm despite its unprofitability. Their social network consists of other farmers, and when they are attacked by groups they will ban together and reinforce their social norms to preserve the meaning they find in life. So when they discuss farm animal welfare they are doing more than just stating their perceptions. They are protecting an institution that is important personally and financially to them. They are protecting their franchise. This is they will sometimes make statements they know to be false, like when they assert that sows in confinement facilities have pleasant lives and have no desire to be raised under the Animal Welfare Approved label. They don't believe this (they just can't really believe this), they are protecting their franchise.

The same goes for animal advocacy groups. These are individuals dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals, and for many it is their life-calling. Just as a business franchise must be in tune with its consumers' attitudes animal advocacy groups must take into account how its members will react to something and must protect the movement at all costs. This is why you hear so few animal advocates speak out against the ban on horse slaughter, despite the fact that there must be many, many, who understand it has led to horrible consequences for horses.

Ham and Eggonomics is also a franchise. I know that I am susceptible to influences other than truth. I extract much meaning in life by believing that I am providing consumers with the objective information they need to understand the farm animal welfare debate. Yet I belong to a college that sees itself as a consultant to the livestock industry, and I also know that only animal advocates read my blog. Despite my sincere efforts, I know that this affects what I say. Because I cannot honestly eliminate the influence, I try to be open about it. Because I know every other group is also influenced by these forces, I often refer to movements as a franchise.

When I refer to a movement as a franchise, do not consider it an insult. It is only an assertion that a movements consists of people, and people can only be human.

Establishing Animal Liberation

A recent article helps clarify what is meant by "animal liberation." The lives of wild and domestic animals are directly affected by the choice humans make, so they can't be "liberated" from human decisions. However, as the quote from article below shows, some do interpret animal rights and liberation to imply that humans must purposely design an environment so that it appears to be absent of human influence.

The American Legal Defense Fund wants the right of wild animals to natural habitat and a self-sustaining population enshrined as well as the right of farm animals to an environment that “satisfies their basic physical and psychological needs” and, the right of all animals to “have their interests represented in court and safeguarded by the law of the land.”


Column: Are animals entitled to the same respect and rights as humans?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Terminology in the Abolitionist Franchise

The Abolitionist Franchise (AF) within the farm animal welfare debate frequently uses the analogy between slavery and farming. It is common for the AF to argue that all arguments in favor of meat-eating can be extended to supporting slavery also.

My question is: does the fact that farm animals are largely dependent upon their property status for existence matter? When the slaves were freed, being equal to whites, they were truly liberated and were able to thrive as a population and a culture. If the property status of animals is banned, we will go from a world where large numbers of animals are raised on farms to a world where a few number of animals are raised as pets. In the case of farming, "liberation" is virtual extinction. This virtual-extinction be good or bad, depending on your perceptions of on-farm suffering of animals.

I prefer it when animal advocates who favor abolition clearly state that they have no problem with the virtual-extinction of all farm animals because I understand their argument. If one believes that it is impossible to simultaneously own an animal and treat it well, then the AF has a strong ethical argument. Even if one does not agree with that belief, the argument is coherent and understandable.

But when people ignore the virtual-extinction factor when arguing for abolition, I become confused about exactly what they are arguing. This blog has recently made some new friends who appear to be from the Abolitionist Franchise. I invite these new friends to offer their thoughts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Michigan Events

The House in Michigan recently passed this bill, which basically says that livestock cannot (most of the time) be prevented from


Isn't it amazing that these requirements are so controversial?

However, the Michigan House is pursuing this bill, which would create an Animal Care Advisory Council consisting of two vets, two farmers, one researcher, one animal advocate, one food industry representative, one retail industry representative, and one restaurant lobby representative. Their job is to make animal care recommendations to be used in a certification process, though I don't see anything about it being mandatory.

Ohio State Animal Welfare Symposium

If you are in Ohio on October 16 and want to here interesting people discuss farm animal welfare issues, you should check this out.

Comments on Dr. Lusk's Guest Post

For readers who perused the guest post by Jayson Lusk, he is my colleague at OK State and the co-author of our upcoming book on farm animal welfare. I appreciate Jayson's thoughts, and have enjoyed out intellectual adventures sorting through the farm animal welfare debate.

One thing I like about Jayson's thoughts is that he views ethical dilemmas by the outcomes of various actions. People have different approaches to moral philosophy. Some like rights-based approaches that are heavy on terminology but weak on consequences, but I prefer the simple layout of utilitarianism. Perhaps it is my own intellectual defect, but I have trouble making ethical decisions using any method other than utilitarianism. When I deviate from utilitarianism, I generally find myself just trying to justify my prior beliefs.

Though my previous post regarding how I treat my dog and pigs was not related to ethics, the issue of whether it is "ethical" to eat certain meats is an interesting issue. The way I view the dilemma of whether to eat pork is as follows.

(1) If I eat factory farmed pork, a certain number of hogs will exist and will experience misery or merriment of the amount __________.
(2) If I eat pork produced under more humane means, a certain number of hogs will exist and will experience misery or merriment of the amount __________.
(3) If I don't eat pork, a certain number of hogs will not be brought into existence and will not experience misery or merriment of the amount __________.

Those are generally my only three options. Regardless of whether I use the phrase "moral community" within my thought process the outcomes are the same, so what should we fill in for the blanks? That, to me, is the great debate. If you look at Chapter 8 you will actually see a rarity for me: the expression of my beliefs and preferences. In this chapter I state that I think eating beef leads to the best outcome for animals but that refraining from pork leads to the best outcome, and these professions are based on my perception about the misery/merriment that cattle and hogs experience.

I would like to add to Jayson's post where he states...

What line of logic or code or ethics can reconcile the supposed “moral schizophrenia” Francione finds distasteful?Bailey does not expect the same thing from his dog and a pig. Does that make him a speciest? I do not expect to receive shoes from my baker or bread from my cobbler, but does that make me a speciest or an “occupationalist?” I expect and receive different things from different people. But I do not mandate people to give the fruits of their labor. In a market based economy, people freely trade the results of their productive abilities and we accept them because they satisfy our wants and needs.

...that those belonging to the Abolitionist Franchise also treat animals differently according to their species, but contend that their suffering should receive equal consideration.

Voluntary Exchange and Morality of Eating Meat

Guest Post by Jayson Lusk

I read with great interest Bailey’s recent post, where he attempted to resolve the supposed contradiction present in the actions of pet owners and meat eaters. Bailey’s answer was that no contradiction exists because he uses his dog and a pig for two different purposes – because they supply different needs they are treated in different ways. Two commenters rapidly replied by indicating that Bailey was a speciesist and by pointing out that justifications for uses of beings based on their purposes could very well justify some gruesome activities that no one would condone.

I agree, in part, with the comments but see a glimmer of truth in what Bailey had to say. Here is my take.

What line of logic or code or ethics can reconcile the supposed “moral schizophrenia” Francione finds distasteful? Bailey does not expect the same thing from his dog and a pig. Does that make him a speciest? I do not expect to receive shoes from my baker or bread from my cobbler, but does that make me a speciest or an “occupationalist?” I expect and receive different things from different people. But I do not mandate people to give the fruits of their labor. In a market based economy, people freely trade the results of their productive abilities and we accept them because they satisfy our wants and needs.

Here is an ethical and moral rule: Each man (and animal) is entitled to their own life and to the results of their labor, and no other man may infringe upon those without consent.

I have no right to a baker’s bread and he has no right to my income. The baker gives me bread voluntarily because he expects something in return: part of my paycheck. The same goes for the cobbler. They satisfy different needs for me, but that is of no concern to them – only that I am willing to give them something they want in order to engaged in a mutually beneficial and voluntary exchange.

Now, Bailey engages in an exchange with his dog. His dog is provided with comfortable housing, ample food, and nightly walks. And, I hope Bailey doesn’t mind me saying, but his dog was also provided with four very expensive leg surgeries. What does the dog give in return? Companionship and entertainment. Bailey and his dog engage in mutually beneficial and voluntary exchanges that enhance both lives.

What about the pig? The pig is provided shelter, food, water, comfortable temperature, and protection from predators. What does Bailey get in return? Ultimately, the pig’s life – its meat. But, wait a minute – this is hardly a voluntary exchange – did the hog engage in a trade that was of its own free will of its own consent? Hard to say. The hog owed its very existence to the fact that Bailey, and others like him, want to eat pork. Is the hog willing to trade a short and uneventful existence for the sake of life itself? Would the hog trade ample food and shelter and a certain but short life in the factory farm for the random and capricious conditions of the wild?

We simply don’t know. The cognitive capacities of the hog prohibit a definitive answer to whether they are willing to engage in the exchange. But here is my presumption: that the hog is indeed willing – that if they could say, they would chose life in a factory farm to no life at all, and that they exchange this meager existence in return for their meat. No doubt an animal rights proponent would argue that I have no right to make this presumption, but the activist is simply exchanging my presumption for theirs: that the hog would rather willingly never exist than live on a factory farm. Both positions are based on presumptions that cannot be validated. But, the truth is this: farm animals can never be placed in a situation where their lives are solely determined by their own actions – their lives are invariably affected by the decisions of humans. Dealing with farm animals will always entail some degree of paternalism and presumption about what is in their interest.

Without schizophrenia or moral confusion, I eat meat and condone the keeping of pets. Such actions are morally defensible based on a conception of mutually beneficial trade, and on the presumption that farm animals would voluntarily exchange the product of their efforts (e.g. milk, eggs, and eventually their life) for what they are paid in return (e.g., ample feed and water, protection from predators and weather, and in all likelihood their very existence).

P.S. Such reasoning does not condone hunting. Many hunters have given nothing to a wild animal in exchange for their life, and thus the presumption of mutually beneficial exchange does not hold.

Thank You to United Egg Producers

For over two years I have studied farm animal welfare issues in the egg industry intensely, but despite great efforts have never been given the opportunity to visit a cage and cage-free farm. Despite personal phone calls to a number of farms, they all turned me down.

However, the United Egg Producers (UEP) is recently holding an event for the media where they will provide them with tours of cage and cage-free facilities. They considered Ham and Eggonomics to be a type of media, and invited me.

I want to publicly thank UEP for this invitation. They are even allowing me to take videos and pictures, which I will post on the blog.

Thank you UEP, I promise to give you a fair hearing, and I promise not to be bias to sell more books or to increase my franchise in the animal welfare debate.

Rushing To Judge

Readers interested in how easy it is for us to be quick to usher judgments should see the comments to the posting Francione on Moral Schizophrenia.

Suppose that I stated that the benefits of human slavery in the U.S. were largely delivered to the consumers of cotton products, and not slave-owning farms. That is a simple result of competitive markets explaining how the world works, but does not make any ethical judgments about slavery itself. Would readers then leave comments suggesting that I argued it is ethical to own slaves? Based on the comments to Francione on Moral Schizophrenia, yes, they would.

Can I not explain human behavior without being accused of condoning those behaviors? Come on people...if you stay in attack mode like that all the time how will you make new friends :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Understanding Mortality Rates of Laying Hens

by Sara Shields

The issue of hen mortality in cage-free egg production is a recurring theme in this blog and in the wider debate over the use of battery cage confinement systems for laying hens. High mortality is an obvious indicator of poor welfare. It is important to note, however, that mortality can vary substantially between hen flocks, and that some cage-free systems have very healthy flocks that do not suffer substantial death losses. These systems can serve as models for the rest of the industry, since mortality is not inherent to any particular system, cage or cage-free, but rather to how well the system is managed.

It is also important to put the problem into historical perspective. Prior to about 1930, flocks were small. Many diseases, such as coccidiosis, respiratory diseases, and salmonellosis[1,2] became more problematic with the commercialization of poultry production, when flock sizes increased and there was a growing effort to raise more birds on less land.[3,4] When the industrialization of poultry production began, the average mortality rate of chickens jumped from 5-6% to 20%.[5] Although high mortality rates were a significant problem, economic incentives led the industry to seek strategies for mitigating these losses.

For the egg industry, one remedy was to move laying hens into cages, where wire floors separated the chickens from their manure. While this may have helped reduce intestinal disease and parasites, intensive confinement restricted the hens to small, barren cages that offer no opportunity to display important natural behavior, impinging on physical health due to lack of exercise and resulting in a very poor quality of life (for more information, click here).

It is also critical to note that the improved flock health status seen today is not due solely to cage confinement, but also to vaccine development, better hygiene practices such as “all in, all out” policies,[6] disease eradication programs,[7] and genetic selection for disease resistance.[8] These factors will continue to be important as egg production systems evolve to meet societal animal welfare concerns.

Role of Hen Genetic Strain

Another key concept in understanding hen mortality rates is the interaction between the genetic background of the hen and her environment. Hens must be genetically adapted to their surroundings in order to thrive, and studies and practical experience are beginning to show that a large portion of mortality in cage-free production can be explained by differences in the genetic strain of hen used in the system.

Laying hens are bred almost entirely by a select few international companies. Until recently, since most egg production took place in battery cages, breeding goals were aimed at producing hens who could produce many eggs in cages. Since cage-free egg production is becoming an international trend (in part a result of legal reforms in the EU and California), however, breeding companies are beginning to select hens on the basis of their performance and survival in cage-free environments. [9]

To illustrate the importance of hen genetic background, we can look to the experience in Denmark, where hens were not moved into cages until 1980. When cages were first introduced to the country, one of the common breeds used was the Danish Skalborg hen. The Skalborg hen had been genetically adapted to the floor systems in use at the time, and this was reflected in the mortality rate when the housing environment changed. In breed comparison tests initiated during this time, it was discovered that the mortality of the Skalborg hen was five times higher in cages compared to floor pens. [10]

In 2005, the World’s Poultry Science Journal published a study in which the authors reviewed every English, French, and German study that reported hen mortality rates in aviary and cage housing systems since 1980. This study eliminated much of the previous bias in the scientific literature by including only studies that used the same hen strain, age, and beak trim status in both cages and aviaries. Only 14 studies met these criteria, a telling result in itself. When these factors were accounted for in the statistical analysis, the mortality rate did not differ between cages and aviaries (multi-tiered cage-free systems). This means that, in previous studies showing a higher mortality rate in aviary systems, the apparent difference was due to factors other than the housing system. [11] One very important factor was the choice of hen strain and, in some studies that report differences in mortality, the type of production system is confounded with the strain of hen used in that system.

In many studies, brown egg-laying strains tended to experience higher mortality rates, primarily as a consequence of injurious pecking. [12,13,14] Because these birds have been popular in cage-free production, however, these studies can give the impression that the system itself is the cause of the increased mortality when, in fact, the hen strain or an interaction between the hen strain and her environment, is the major factor of importance.

In some segments of organic production, where brown hybrid hens have historically dominated, white hybrid hens are now becoming more popular, mainly due to their more agreeable temperament. A Swedish survey found that, where farmers have experienced severe outbreaks of cannibalism, they are changing the hens in their systems from brown to white hybrids. [15] To meet potential consumer demand for cage-free brown eggs, however, it is also possible to breed brown strain hens specifically for cage-free production (see the Stonegate example below). [16]

Role of Management

An important prerequisite to good management is the attitude of the producer. Scientists have noted that, “Attitudes of those in charge of management and husbandry are likely to be a major determinant of animal welfare.” [17] Alternative systems undoubtedly require more skills and experience, [18] and are thus more sensitive to poor management. [19] Currently, differences in management can contribute to inconsistency among cage-free farms, with some performing well and others experiencing difficulties. Thus, while mortality can be high, it is also highly variable between farms, [20,21,22] with some being highly successful. Where mortality is excessive, steps should be taken to correct the problem. Poultry producers have shown the ability to be innovative in the past, overcoming obstacles with the use of enhanced biosecurity measures and aided by advances in veterinary science and genetics, as previously mentioned. It seems likely that as demand for cage-free eggs increases, producers will once again need to show innovation.

In organic production, it has been demonstrated that, as farmers gain experience, feather pecking damage is reduced. One such study found that farmers who understood the behavioral biology of their chickens, including their origin in a forested environment, have adapted their management, provided enhanced outdoor areas and paid greater attention to the early rearing experience of their laying hens. Successful control of feather pecking in this study was dependent on the motivation and devotion of the farmer. In other words, the attitude of the producer matters. [23]

There are many important management steps that producers can take to control mortality rates. For example, some steps to reduce injurious pecking—in addition to choosing the right hen strain—include dimming the lights, [24] delaying the age at which hens lay their first egg, [25] providing early access to perches, [26,27] and providing attractive foraging substrates. [28,29,30] At stocking densities that provide more than 1000cm2/hen, the provision of additional space to facilitate the use of perches, nest boxes, foraging materials and access to feed and water may also reduce the likelihood of cannibalism. [31] The primary methods of controlling coccidiosis are with vaccine and coccidiostats added to feed. In barn systems, the use of raised slatted floors (as is common in breeding flocks, which are almost always housed on the floor), can prevent infection with parasites. [32] Small, free-range producers can use mobile housing to prevent the build-up of parasites around the hen house, [33] pasture rotation, and lowered stocking density. [34] A complete discussion of management factors is beyond the scope of this blog post, but interested readers can find additional information on keeping free-range flocks healthy and safe on the web sites of the Soil Association ( or the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (

Low-Mortality Cage-Free Farms

Low-mortality cage-free farms can be found in instances where corporations and producers have worked together to find solutions. For example, Stonegate supplies eggs to Waitrose, a leading supermarket chain in the United Kingdom. Stonegate has developed its own line of hens, Columbian Blacktails, who are birds with hardy characteristics that make them more suitable to free-range production. Beak trimming is not permitted, yet the genetic background of these birds makes them “almost totally free of feather pecking and cannibalism.” [35] Stonegate is the United Kingdom’s second largest egg producer and packer, [36] demonstrating that welfare improvements can take place on a large scale. The Columbian Blacktails fit the environment—they are genetically adapted to free-range production.

There are many other examples of low-mortality cage-free egg production operations. For example, in Switzerland, the FiBL research institute uses a subdivided barn system with rotational access to four outdoor paddocks. One paddock is in use at a time, giving the other three a chance to rest, which reduces the parasite load. Overhead netting protects free-range hens from birds of prey. The flock, a mix of brown and white strains, is subdivided into groups of 500 birds. The environment is enriched with perches, dustbaths, nest boxes and plenty of space. The birds are not beak trimmed, yet they have a mortality rate of less than 2%.[37]

Himmelsfarm (Heaven's Farm) in The Netherlands has three barns with around 32,000 H&N Brown Nick birds. They use a Vencomatic aviary system. The mortality rate after 51 weeks was less than 2%.[38]

The Meyers farm in Lincolnshire, England is a free-range farm using Lohmann Tradition birds. After making adjustments to their refurbished barn, the mortality rate at 48 weeks was just 1.5% in their flock of over 4,000 birds. [39]

There are also examples of low-mortality cage-free production in the scientific literature spanning several decades. For example, in a 1986 study conducted by researchers at Scottish Farm Buildings Investigation Unit and the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, ISA Brown birds were used in a comparison between battery cages and a perchery system. The cumulative mortality in the perchery was 1.36% from 20-44 weeks while it was 2.47% in the comparison group housed in battery cages. [40]

A 2009 University of British Columbia study reported mortality rates of beak-trimmed Lohmann White, Lohmann Brown, and H&N White birds. Half of the birds of each strain were confined in cages and half were kept in floor pens with a perch and a nest box. Birds reared in floor pens were given access to perches beginning at two weeks of age and were vaccinated against coccidiosis. Mortality during the laying period was 3.33% for the Lohmann White birds in the floor pens and 10.8% in cages. Similarly, for the Lohmann Brown birds it was 1.67% in the floor pens and 15.8% in cages, and for the H&N White birds mortality figures were 5.71% on the floor and 13.3% in cages, although mortality was higher during the rearing period for Lohman Brown and H&N White strains on the floor. [41]

These examples show that mortality is not inherently high in cage-free egg production. Experienced producers who are truly committed to improving the welfare of their birds have found viable methods for controlling mortality.

The egg industry is not static. It continues to evolve and reinvent itself in response to consumer demand. Changing the face of egg production is not only a matter of consumer concern, however, as meeting the welfare needs of the animals is an ethical imperative. The cooperative efforts of producers working together with retailers, scientists, consumers, and advocacy groups could bring about needed improvements quickly. While it may take some time for North American producers to make cage-free systems perform optimally, the longer we wait to make the transition, the longer hens in battery cages suffer.


1 Appleby MC, Mench JA, and Hughes BO. 2004. Poultry Behaviour and Welfare (Wallingford, U.K.: CABI International, pp.177-9).

2 Van Roekel H. 1955. Respiratory disease of poultry. In: Brandly CA and Jungherr EL (eds.), Advances in Veterinary Science (New York, NY: Academic Press Inc., Publishers, pp. 64-105).

3 Smith P and Daniel C. 1975. The Chicken Book (Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company, p. 258).

4 Hurd LM. 1930. Practical Poultry Farming (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, p. 294).

5 Smith P and Daniel C. 1975. The Chicken Book (Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company, p. 258).

6 Appleby MC, Mench JA, and Hughes BO. 2004. Poultry Behaviour and Welfare (Wallingford, U.K.: CABI International, pp.177-9).

7 Hitchner SB. 2004. History of biological control of poultry diseases in the U.S.A. Avian Diseases 48:1-8.

8 Beaumont C, Dambrine G, Chaussé AM, and Flock D. 2003. Selection for disease resistance: conventional breeding for resistance to bacteria and viruses. In: Muir WM and Aggrey SE (eds.), Poultry Genetics, Breeding and Biotechnology (Wallingford, U.K.: CABI Publishing, pp. 357-84.

9 O’Sullivan NP. 2009. Genomics, physiology, and well-being: Layer industry

breeder’s perspective. In: Abstracts of the 98th Annual Meeting of the Poultry Science Association (Raleigh, North Carolina, p.2).

10 Sorensen P. 2001. Breeding strategies in poultry for genetic adaptation to the organic environment. In: Hovi M and Baars T (eds.), Breeding and feeding for animal health and welfare in organic livestock systems, Proceedings of the Fourth NAHWOA Workshop (Wageningen, The Netherlands: Network for Animal Health and Welfare in Organic Agriculture, pp 51-61).

11 Aerni V, Brinkhof MWG, Wechsler B, Oester H, and Fröhlich E. 2005. Productivity and mortality of laying hens in aviaries: a systematic review. World’s Poultry Science Journal 61(1):130-42.

12 Häne M, Huber-Eicher B, and Fröhlich E. 2000. Survey of laying hen husbandry in Switzerland. World’s Poultry Science Journal 56:22-31.

13 Blokhuis HJ, Niekerk TFv, Bessei W, et al. 2007. The LayWel project: welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens. World’s Poultry Science Journal 63(1):101-14.

14 Berg C. 2001. Health and Welfare in Organic Poultry Production. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. Suppl. 95:37-45.

15 Berg C. 2001. Health and Welfare in Organic Poultry Production. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. Suppl. 95:37-45.

16 Ova Achievement. Undated. Waitrose. Accessed September 17, 2009.

17 Appleby MC and Hughes BO. 1991. Welfare of laying hens in cages and alternative systems: environmental, physical and behavioural aspects. World’s Poultry Science Journal 47(2):109-28.

18 Häne M, Huber-Eicher B, and Fröhlich E. 2000. Survey of laying hen husbandry in Switzerland. World’s Poultry Science Journal 56:22-31.

19 Appleby MC and Hughes BO. 1991. Welfare of laying hens in cages and alternative systems: environmental, physical and behavioural aspects. World’s Poultry Science Journal 47(2):109-28.

20 Tauson R. 2002. Furnished cages and aviaries: production and health. World’s Poultry Science Journal 58:49-63.

21 Whay RH, Main DCJ, Green LE, Heaven G, Howell H, Morgan M, Pearson A, and Webster AJF. 2007. Assessment of the behaviour and welfare of laying hens on free-range units. Veterinary Record 161:119-28.

22 Berg C. 2001. Health and Welfare in Organic Poultry Production. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. Suppl. 95:37-45.

23 Bestman MWP. 2001. The role of management and housing in the prevention of feather pecking in laying hens. In: Hovi M and Bouilhol M (eds.), Human Animal Relationship: Stockmanship and Housing in Organic Livestock Systems. Proceedings of the Third NAHWOA Workshop (Clermont-Ferrand, France: Network for Animal Health and Welfare in Organic Agriculture, University of Reading, pp.77-88). Accessed September 17, 2009.

24 Kjaer JB and Vestergaard KS. 1999. Development of feather-pecking in relation to light intensity. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 62:243-54.

25 Newberry RC. 2003. Cannibalism. In: Perry GC (ed.), Welfare of the Laying Hen, Poultry Science Symposium Series, 27 (Wallingford, U.K.: CABI Publishing, pp. 239-58).

26 Gunnarsson S, Keeling LJ, Svedberg J. 1999. Effect of rearing factors on the prevalence of floor eggs, cloacal cannibalism and feather pecking in commercial flocks of loose housed laying hens. British Poultry Science 40:12-8.

27 Newberry RC. 2003. Cannibalism. In: Perry GC (ed.), Welfare of the Laying Hen, Poultry Science Symposium Series, 27 (Wallingford, U.K.: CABI Publishing, pp. 239-58).

28 Huber-Eicher and Sebo F. 2001. Reducing feather pecking when raising laying hen chicks in aviary systems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 73:59-68.

29 Johnsen PF, Vestergaard KS, Nørgaard-Nielsen.1998. Influence of early rearing conditions of the development of feather pecking and cannibalism in domestic fowl. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 60:25-41.

30 Aerni V, Brinkhof MWG, Wechsler B, Oester H, and Fröhlich E. 2005. Productivity and mortality of laying hens in aviaries: a systematic review. World’s Poultry Science Journal 61(1):130-42.

31 Newberry RC. 2003. Cannibalism. In: Perry GC (ed.), Welfare of the Laying Hen, Poultry Science Symposium Series, 27 (Wallingford, U.K.: CABI Publishing, pp. 239-58).

32 Bermudez AJ and Stewart-Brown B. 2003. Disease prevention and diagnosis. In: Saif YM (Editor-in-Chief), Diseases of Poultry, 11th Edition (Ames, IA: Iowa State Press, pp.19-55).

33 Bassler A, Ciszuk P, Sjelin K: Management of laying hens in mobile houses – a review of experiences. 1999. In: Hermansen JE, Lund V, and Thuen E (eds.), Proceedings NJF-seminar No 303, Ecological Animal Husbandry in the Nordic Countries (Horsens, Denmark: Danish Research Center for Organic Farming, pp. 45-50). Accessed September 17, 2009.

34 Fanatico A. 2006. Alternative poultry production systems and outdoor access. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Accessed September 10, 2009.

35 Ova Achievement. Undated. Waitrose. Accessed September 17, 2009.

36 Organic Columbian Blacktail eggs –the Stonegate/Waitrose supply chain. Report of an Elm Farm Research Centre Study. 2006. Accessed September 17, 2009.

37 Riddle J. Undated. Alpine Chicken Tour. Accessed September 17, 2009.

38 The Poultry Site. 2009. Layers Get Special Treatment at 'Heavenly' Farm. Accessed September 17, 2009.

39 Back to farming the traditional way. 2002. Lohmann Poultry News, July. Accessed September 17, 2009.

40 McLean KA, Baxter MR, and Michie W. 1986. A comparison of the welfare of laying hens in battery cages and in a perchery. Research and Development in Agriculture 3(2):93-8.

41 Singh R, Cheng KM, and Silversides FG. Production performance and egg quality of four strains of laying hens kept in conventional cages and floor pens. Poultry Science 88:256-64.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Crazy PETA

Here's the latest crazy PETA activity

I have a theory about Ingrid Newkirk, the President of PETA. I think she is the world's greatest and most outrageous prankster. I bet she was making fun of kind-hearted animal rights activists one day and said to a friend, "I'll bet I can make animal rights activists [insert crazy thing here]". Then she actually got away with it. Not only did she pull her prank off, but people started sending her money.

She then made more bets. "I'll bet I can get women to strip naked and sit in cages...I'll bet I can ask Ben and Jerry's to make ice cream from women's breast milk and won't be fired..." She kept winning the bets, and kept making more money.

And a true prankster would never cease until others catch she never has...just a theory :)

Francione on Moral Schizophrenia

Gary Francione has written several interesting pieces on moral schizophrenia, the latest one here. I live this "moral schizophrenia" and most everyone I know does also, and I assure you there is nothing schizophrenic about it. I eat meat from a pig and have a dog as my best friend not because I am confused about anything nor because I am uneducated about the intelligience of pigs or factory farming. The motivation for valuing pigs for food and dogs for companionship stems not from confusion but is a simple, direct product of what the animals are used for.

I treat pigs one way because their "purpose" is to provide me with food and I treat my dog differently because her "purpose" is to provide me with companionship. One may say that I am immoral, but one cannot say that I am in anyway confused. I know exactly what I am doing. People largely base their decisions on how to treat animals not based on a moral philosophy or animals' IQs, but the purpose of the animal.

And regarding the deer and the hunter, if you don't understand why hunters would help a deer, you don't understand a single thing about hunters.

My comments are friendly...keep thinking and writing Gary....

About Cass Sunstein

There has been so much talk lately about Cass Sunstein that I decided to read a few of his papers; namely, I read The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer and Animal Rights Without Controversy.

My overall assessment is that Sunstein should not be as controversial as he is, and that he is really more of a victim of circumstance than a victim of his own idealogy. Sunstein is correct that virtually everyone subscribes to some form of animal rights. Americans heartily support anti-cruelty laws, and disdain anyone who tortures animals without justification. While many may mock animal rights activists and scoff at the idea of eliminating the status of property for animals, for all practical purposes animals are not really even property now. You cannot do whatever you like with animals, even if you "own" it, and the anti-cruelty laws limiting your freedom over this "property" are very popular. To some degree, Sunstein argues and I concur, we are all animal rightists.

Sunstein does argue that anti-cruelty laws are not enforced as vigorously as he would like, and proposes that citizens should be able to bring forth lawsuits on behalf of animals to facilitate enforcement, but don't we do so already do so with the environment? Is asking that anti-cruetly statutes be enforced, and that the common exceptions to cruelty be eliminated, really all that extremist?

As Sunstein writes he reveals pieces of himself. Some of these pieces better resemble animal rightists and some better resemble regular Americans. He suggests a ban on hunting might be appropriate if hunting is conducted only for fun, which makes him a bit unusual to most men than I know (they would probably describe him as effiminate) but then he seems to have little problem with raising animals for food or animal experimentation in important areas. Sunstein seemingly dismisses those who feel domestic animals and certain livestock should be in control of their own destiny, as that destiny would often be greater suffering than they realize at the hands of humans, but unfortunately "suggests" that rats may not be justifiably expelled from a house. The subject of "animals as property" is raised but then dismissed as largely irrelevant; a point which I readily agree.

In summary, Sunstein is certainly more concerned with the suffering of animals than the average American, but the intensity of this concern is not extreme. His views appear liberal but a liberality consistent the administration that was elected. Unfortunately his open-mindedness is what exposes him to such scrutiny. A professor is supposed to be open-minded, but that leaves you susceptible to ideas that many in society are not ready for; and when you go to serve a President that open-mindnesses becomes a handicap.

Sunstein is liberal but not an extreme liberal. As conservatives and liberals continue their battle they will search for enemies on either side. Sunstein was just open-minded enough to qualify as a valid enemy of conservatives. If you believe Obama to be a true socialist you will probably feel that Sunstein is a true animal rightist who wants to take away your dog. But if you believe Obama to simply be a normal liberal, then you will find Sunstein to be likewise. Attacks on Sunstein may be unfortunate for him, but he was approved by Congress and has now made animal welfare a more prominent issue.

Utilizing Space in a Cage-Free System

I have seen a few recent narratives in favor of cage systems that argue hens should not be given greater space allotments because, when it is given to them, they do not use it. I recently cited one of these narratives as stating...

While there were no cages, many of the hens were huddled together at one end of the hen
house; so while they had more open space, in practical terms they weren’t using any more
space than the hens in cages.

I once visited a pastured poultry broiler farm and saw the same thing. The little broiler chicks were given lots of room but didn't want the extra room. They all huddled together almost all the time, leaving most of the pasture-tent space empty. Is the same true for layers?
To assess this claim I re-visited some videos of cage-free facilities the UEP kindly sent me. Watching the videos left two impressions on me. First, there were so many hens on the floor of the facilities that there was hardly any extra space that even existed. Second, the hens were mostly uniformly scattered about the space. They did not huddle in a corner, but were comfortably walking around. Thus, these videos counter the aforementioned claim that hens do not want extra space. But then, the UEP is unlikely to film and distribute a video of cage-free hens suffocating each other in the corner of a building :) So while I am dubious of the claim that hens do not welcome and utilize extra space when given to them, I remain open-minded.
Does anyone know of a scientifically documented study of how hens use their time and space in a cage-free system? This issue interests me, and seems important.

One Study Favors Cage Eggs

I have been searching for a study that compares and ranks egg production systems that puts the cage system equivalent or ahead of cage-free. All the rankings thus far favor cage-free systems, so I have been on the lookout for one that doesn't.

A study in New Zealand may or may not be this contrary study supporting cage egg production.

This study compared cage systems, cage-free systems, and free-range systems, finding that all birds in every system were adapted to the production system and had acceptable welfare standards. The cage system was not considered to be inferior or superior to other systems. This could be considered an important finding, as it is the first real study that did not conclude cage-free systems are superior to cage systems.

However, if you look at how the study was conducted it was perhaps a foregone conclusion. The various sytems were evaluated by mortality rates, feather loss, injuries, physical performance, stress-hormone levels, and the like, and it was already known that cage systems do well on these factors (that is my perception, at least).

What this study did differently was not not assign any credit to cage-free and free-range systems for allowing birds room to walk and express normal behaviors like foraging. Previous studies did give cage-free/free-range systems credit for this, and was largely the deciding factor in determining cage-free was better.

The study indirectly admits this, saying that laying hens have said to suffer in cage conditions by other people because they are unable to perform almost any natural behavior or even walk, and that, "These perceptions of conventional cages will probably not be dispelled by the results of this survey. Nevertheless, a high level of adaptation is, at the very least, a necessary condition for good bird welfare, and the behavioral results of this study show that birds in cages appear as well adapted to their environment as free range and barn hens are to theirs."

It should also be noted that, according to a personal source who is an expert in animal welfare and intimately involved in the welfare issue, that the findings of reports like the Laywel Report were also a foregone conclusion. This person told me that the people involved with the Laywel Report were going to rank cage-free ahead of cage systems regardless of what the mortality rate in the cage-free system was. When the report was written they made it seem as if the mortality rate realized was "acceptable" in return for the freedom it provides the birds, but in reality, almost any rate would have been acceptable. I may be wrong, but that is what I was told.

I believe that there is no bottom-line in the cage-free vs cage egg debate. I give cage-free systems credit for allowing birds the room to walk and such, and that is why I prefer cage-free, but other people don't. And if you do give credit for this feature, how much? The answers to these questions depends on perceptions, and I have mine, but other people have theirs as well.

Morality, Rationality, and Emotion

I am currently reading the excellent book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, which describes the pscyhology of decision-making. Chapter 6 regards morality, and asserts that neuroscience proves that decisions regarding what is ethical or unethical virtually ignores the part of the brain associated with rationality. Instead, morality judgments are made the same way aesthetic judgments are formed, such as whether you like a song or painting. The ethical justifications people surmise have more to do with justifying their moral intuition than forming ethical verdicts. Lehrer states, "When it comes to making ethical decisions, human rationality isn't a scientist, it's a lawyer."

Such a finding has implications for the animal welfare issue, and helps me understand the behavior of various groups. People who oppose and support animal rights are not doing so based intensive research and dispassionate logic. Their mind takes their genetics and their life experiences thus far and forms snaps judgments about, say, whether an animal should be allowed to express normal behaviors or whether it is "ethical" to raise animals for food. This explains why so few people change their mind about how farm animals should be treated as they accumulate more experience in the topic and why the topic (like most moral topics, abortion for instance) brings forth intensive emotions. Asking whether a sow should be allowed room to turn around is like asking whether Beethoven is more talented than John Lennon--it is a matter of intuition, much like tastes in music. Since these "tastes" regarding morality are simply presented to the individuals' consciousness, they are unlikely to welcome others questioning their morality. That would imply their mysterious intuition regarding morality is defunct, which would be a problem the individual would be unable to repair.

My experience with people of various views suggests that people with animal rights tendencies tend to be squimish and extremely sensitive to pain and the concept of death. People who have no trouble raising animals for meat are much less squimish, for instance, they are much more likely to be hunters. They are more accepting of pain and death as a natural part of life. These "tendencies" will indeed carry over to their thoughts on raising animals for food. Because intuition dislikes uncertainty, it will tend to paint a black-and-white picture of the issue. You either sympathize with animal rights activists or you don't. If you eat meat you should not support any HSUS initiatives. That kind of thing.

It also suggests that ALL writers on the topic (including me) that express an ethical opinion are doing more to justify their "feelings" to others than to actually arrive at a verdict themselves. That is something I have implicitly believed but never asserted because I had no source to back me. Animal rights authors and industry defenders alike are not basing their differences so much on different sets of information, but different intuitions.

Like Alexander Pope stated,
The monk's humility,
The hereo's price,
All, all alike,
have reason on their side.

Peter Singer: have your writings been objective research or a pursuit to justify your intuition?
Trent Loos: is your careful scrutiny of animal industry issues sought to inform the public and yourself, or to better justify those mysterious instincts underneath that black hat?
Reader: are your views of the issue at all swayed by new information, or are you simply a stubborn soldier under the command of your intuition?

Monday, September 14, 2009

About Cage-Free Egg Production

I recently contacted an egg producer who raises both cage and cage-free eggs. I offerred three perceptions I had about cage-free egg production and asked them to respond. My perceptions were...

(1) Brown birds are used in cage-free egg production because they lay brown eggs and consumers want cage-free eggs to be brown

(2) Brown birds are calmer in an open system around people, which makes them preferred in a cage-free system.

(3) Brown birds are also more aggressive towards one another, which is a reason mortality rates are higher in cage-free systems.

Those were my three perceptions, and the farmers' response is below (I omitted parts that would reveal the farm's identity)...

My observations of brown vs. white birds are somewhat along the same lines yours but I would like to point out a few other things that go along with this. I have found in my tenure here at xxxx that our brown birds do tend to be a little more docile in a cage free environment, but they also tend to be more docile in the cage as well. White birds can be trained through good management practices to do well in a cage free environment but as you say, the consumer has repeatedly shown that they want a cage free egg to be brown. As to the heightened mortality in a cage free system, I think it has little to do with the aggression of the birds but more to do with the fact that the birds have more room to pile on one another causing suffocation and the fact that cage free environments create a breeding ground for parasites detrimental to the birds. Hence the fact that coccidiosis tends to be a problem in a cage free system and not cage systems.

Tail Docking in CA

A reader referred me to a paper suggesting tail docking is uncommon in CA.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Docking Tails

The California legislature recently passed a bill to ban the docking of dairy cattle tails. I was surprised when I read that over 80% of dairy farms in a study used tail docking, as I had worked on two dairies when I was young and was completely unaware that anyone did this.

A few months ago I spent time trying to find out why people were docking tails, and I could not identify any reason other than the nuisance of dealing with tails when milking. I could not find any health reason for doing so.

Fraud in Free-Range Eggs?

A news article suggesting some people may be selling eggs as free-range eggs, when they in reality are not.

I once talked with a free-range egg farmer who told me he had to sell brown eggs at Farmers Market because his consumers will be skeptical of whether his eggs were free-range if they were white eggs.

Tomorrow's Livestock Agriculture

Recent news reports describe Michigan agricultural leaders meeting with the HSUS to try and avoid a ballot initiative. Receiving attention is the fact that cage-free eggs are more costly and that large-scale changes can cause disruptions to the egg industry. I have three points to make which suggests producers should not be as opposed to such changes as they are, and there may be an alternative motive for opposing cage-free production for some producers.

First, the HSUS is fortunately giving producers 7+ years to convert to cage-free or gestation-stall-free systems. These changes are then long-run changes. I applaud HSUS for this. If they had tried to make these changes within five years I would publicly denounce them as unreasonable.

Second, in the long-run the benefits of a less expensive production system are received almost exclusively by consumers, not producers. Competition ensures that egg producers utilizing cage systems do not benefit from its low cost, because prices are always driven down to costs. In the long-run, then, it is consumers who will bear the burden of higher egg prices, not producers. I believe a smart producers would attempt to be one of the first adopters and gain considerable human capital in cage-free production, and then support laws that force others to adopt this system that she has already mastered.

Third, it may be that some producers are fighting cage-free systems because the systems are new and some producers are receiving benefits of being early-adopters. The premiums charged for cage-free eggs are huge, huge, huge, relative to the costs. Someone is making lots of money, and I am a little bit suspicious when I talk to producers who grow cage-free eggs and publicly denounce efforts to encourage cage-free egg production. During a phone call with an egg producer I tried to ascertain what portion of the high cage-free egg premiums are received by the farmer and the grocery store, but could not get an answer. His evasiveness suggests he may be profiting handsomely, and opposes laws promoting cage-free production because he does not want competition. Maybe not, but the high premiums on cage-free egg production relative to the cost premium suggests my suspicions are not unwarranted.

Note: I know this posting seems anti-egg-industry, but I am only going where the economics lies, I promise :)

Cows that don't feel pain

A recent article in Neuroethics discusses the possibility of breeding animals who do not feel pain. I think it is interesting that, in society today, many people familiar with intensive livestock production have no doubts that layers and hogs lead miserable lives. For people who search for meaning in their lives as an activist, and given what has already been accomplished in regards to civil rights, it is not suprising that animal welfare/rights has become a topic to rally around.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Notre Dame Prefers Cage Eggs

Interesting article explaining why Notre Dame considered cage and cage-free egg production and chose cage eggs.

I don't know if you agree, but something about the way the article is written seems strange...


Note: Through the UEP Certified Public Relations program, UEP Certified was a
sponsor at the National Association of College and University Foodservice
(NACUFS) annual conference. The following is a report of a presentation made at
the conference by University of Notre Dame Foodservice executives explaining how
and why they chose to continue using UEP Certified conventional cage production
eggs in spite of student and activist pressure in favor of non-cage production eggs.
July 27, 2006 – University of Notre Dame Foodservice executives today outlined some of
the issues facing many college and university foodservice directors today in a
presentation to the National Association of College and University Foodservices
(NACUFS) annual convention entitled “Issues Surrounding Cage vs. Cage-Free Eggs.”
The presentation by Jocie Antonelli, R.D., manager of nutrition and food safety, and Dan
Crimmins, director of purchasing for Notre Dame documented the campaign waged by
some students at the university to get Notre Dame to only purchase cage free eggs. It also
showcased the efforts that the university’s foodservice department made to investigate
the issue and make their decision, which was to continue to serve only conventional cage
production eggs.

Jocie is a registered dietitian with a B.S. in dietetics from Indiana University. She has
been with Notre Dame for ten years and is responsible for nutrition and food safety.
Notre Dame has 11,200 students, 7,800 of whom are undergraduates. Unlike many other
universities, 80% of the students live in on-campus residence halls all four years. 6,800
students purchase on-campus meal contracts from the university. 80% of the students are
Catholic, and the university has a strong history and commitment to campus life and
social causes.
The foodservice department formed a Social Responsibility Committee in 2005
consisting of Jocie, Dan, their executive chef and their senior associate director. Some of
the issues that the committee has worked on include organics, local purchasing,
sustainable seafood, pandemic planning and other societal and environmental issues.


Jocie explained that a few students formed a group called ND For Animals and provided
the university’s foodservice department with a 15-minute video purporting to show
cruelty, filth and disease in egg laying hen houses. The students asked that the university
switch to cage free eggs.

The student group presented a 5-point document outlining arguments for Notre Dame to
use only cage free eggs. These arguments included claims that cage free eggs are higher
quality (they are not) and that the Better Business Bureau has ruled that the UEP
Certified label is misleading (it has not).

The students also claimed a moral, ethical and religious basis for the university to be
opposed to cage production eggs, even claiming a Papal quote on the topic to support
their position. The students also were advocating one specific cage free egg
supplier/brand that they wanted the university to utilize. The activists also published a
full page ad in the campus newspaper featuring the Papal quote, and one of the activists
wrote a letter to the editor with their views.


Rather than relying strictly on the video, which was produced by the national activist
group Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Jocie and her committee decided to
visit their current egg supplier as well as two cage free suppliers. They invited two of the
students to come along. Jocie indicated that, based on the video, she was not looking
forward to the farm tours. However, she was pleasantly surprised by what she saw on her
visits to the university’s egg supplier, Creighton Brothers in Northern Indiana.
“We saw four to six hens per cage, with each hen provided 67 to 72 square inches of
space, with 24 hour access to food and water, protection from predators, cages which
were stair-stepped to prevent any manure pass-thru from one cage onto the next, plenty of
bright lighting which mimicked normal daytime/nighttime patterns,” Jocie said.
Creighton Brothers participates in the United Egg Producers Certified program
( which requires producers to provide scientifically-accepted
allowances for cage space, air, water, feed, lighting and other animal husbandry and
welfare criteria. Inspections for UEP Certified producers are conducted annually by
USDA personnel or the independent testing company Validus. Jocie showed the
NACUFS group several photos taken at Creighton Brothers farms, which she said
differed greatly from the images she had expected to see based on the HSUS video.
The Notre Dame group also visited two cage free egg suppliers, each of which had
20,000 hens. “What many people think of when they envision a cage free farm is a red
barn, blue sky and green grass,” Jocie said. “But in reality their environment is not that
much different than the ones we had seen at the conventional cage production facility.
While there were no cages, many of the hens were huddled together at one end of the hen
house; so while they had more open space, in practical terms they weren’t using any more
space than the hens in cages. And unlike the cage system where the manure drops into an
underground pit, these hens were walking around in what is called a ‘deep litter system’
which allowed them to be in constant contact with their feces. And we saw firsthand what
the phrase ‘pecking order’ means. It means that some of the hens actually peck or attack
other hens. This is why their beaks are trimmed (not cut off) just after birth, both in
conventional cage and cage free production systems. There was no natural light, just
artificial; the air quality seemed worse to us, because the hens are walking around and
kick up a lot of dust. In fact, many of the workers were wearing masks. The ammonia
smell also seemed stronger to us than in the conventional cage production, perhaps
because of the deep litter system.”

Jocie said that the cage free system did allow for more opportunity for the hens to
demonstrate some natural chicken behaviors like scratching or dust bathing.
ND Foodservice also spent a lot of time discussing the moral, ethical and religious claims
made by the student activists, Jocie said.

“We found out that the quote the students were attributing to Pope Benedict XVI came
when he was a Cardinal, so its relevance should be relegated to a personal opinion rather
than a Catholic doctrine,” Jocie explained. “And we thought his negative connotation of
animals used in production agriculture could be equally applied to hens living in the cage
free environments that we visited.”

The Foodservice Committee also found clarification and guidance from the Catholic
Catechism which reads in part:

“God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom He created in his own
image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing…Medical and
scientific experimentation on animals, if it remains within reasonable limits, is a morally
acceptable practice since it contributes to caring for or saving human lives…It is contrary
to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to
spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can
love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.”
“We decided that the religious issue was a neutral point in our review,” Jocie explained.
The university had their chef test both varieties of eggs and he found no difference in
their culinary performance. There also is no difference from a nutritional standpoint.
“We then looked up the definition of humane in the dictionary, and discussed the quality
of life issues for hens,” Jocie said. “While we believed that the quality of life might be
slightly better in the cage free system, there was no real way of asking a chicken that
question. And more importantly we believe that neither the cage production system nor
the cage free system treats chickens inhumanely.”

Jocie said there were a number of food safety issues that they also were concerned about
including salmonella, egg contact with feces and the freshness of the eggs. The university
provides food for a children’s center on campus, a retirement home for priests, and
pregnant women. In addition, they considered the logistical issues of their egg deliveries
as well as cost factors. Many cage free eggs cost twice or three times the price of
conventional cage production eggs, though this was less of an issue than many of the
other considerations, she said.

Jocie said they considered the notion of offering students a choice, but that was not an
efficient option for them to implement at this time. A representative from Cornell
University indicated that they were test piloting a program where they would provide
students a cage free choice of a meal such as an omelet, but they would charge more for it
and see if there was sufficient interest to sustain that offering in the future.
The university’s review took several months and will periodically be reviewed, Jocie
said. For other universities and colleges facing this or similar issues, Jocie had this
advice: “Do your own homework and investigation, check out your suppliers, and
understand all aspects of the issue of products in your supply chain. See for yourself;
don’t just take other people’s words for it.”
# # #