Animal welfare advocates are applauding a decision by Canada's top agricultural university to break the status quo and switch to serving free-run eggs for breakfast.
Ontario's University of Guelph voted in favour of adopting a cage-free egg policy after staff and students agreed to cover the 50 per cent price hike. The policy, a first for a Canadian university or college, is expected to take effect in September and will affect about 250,000 shelled eggs each year.
"Basically our research showed that battery cages are a pretty inhumane system, and we felt that this was something that we could go to operationally that would be supported by the university community, and that it was the right thing to do," hospitality services executive director David Boeckner said Wednesday.
'By getting hens out of cages, you're removing one of the worst forms of animal cruelty."—Bruce Passmore, Vancouver Humane Society
A number of other Canadian universities are also considering the move, including the University of Toronto, Simon Fraser, the University of British Columbia, Concordia and McGill, said Bruce Passmore of the Vancouver Humane Society, who is also a co-ordinator of the Chicken Out project, a national initiative to end the use of battery cages.
"This is a really important step for us here in Canada, and we're hoping that if a Canadian premier agricultural university can go cage-free, any university can," Passmore said.
"By getting hens out of cages, you're removing one of the worst forms of animal cruelty."
300 students polled on issue
The activist group Guelph Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals began pushing for the policy two years ago.
University officials polled more than 300 students before making the decision to buy free-range eggs, which are laid by chickens that are allowed to move around in a barn. The ban does not cover liquid eggs or pre-baked goods that might contain eggs.
Despite the precedent-setting move by the university, Passmore said Canada is still way behind on the issue. The European Union has passed a resolution to ban battery cages by 2012, and more than 100 colleges and universities in the United States have already adopted policies similar to Guelph's, he said.
Josh Balk of the Humane Society of the United States said a number of large companies like Google and AOL have stopped using eggs from caged hens in their corporate cafeterias, while many grocery and restaurant chains no longer use them in their products.
Cage-freebirdsface predators, weather
Some Canadian egg producers, however, called the university's move a blow to consumer choice.
'If enough consumers make the choice to move to an alternate system of demanding where their eggs come from, our farmers will respond.'—Harry Pelissero, Egg Farmers of Ontario
"I'm disappointed and concerned that they would take this action and take choice away from the students," said Harry Pelissero, a third-generation egg producer and general manager of Egg Farmers of Ontario.
"Consumers have a choice in the supermarket with respect to the type of eggs that they want to buy and the type of housing arrangement that those birds were raised in."
Pelissero argued cage-free living isn't necessarily all its cracked up to be since free-range chickens are exposed to predators, inclement weather and pecking orders.
"You're actually, I think, protecting the birds," he said of raising chickens in cages. "But that should be a consumer's choice, and if enough consumers make the choice to move to an alternate system of demanding where their eggs come from, our farmers will respond."