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.”
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