Cage-free eggs have drawbacks says farm animal welfare expert

A farm animal welfare expert at the Atlantic Veterinary College said he doesn't think the push for cage-free eggs by fast food companies is necessarily the best option.

'I think it's unfortunate that some companies are being pressurized to go cage-free'

Egg Farmers of Canada said Canadian commercial producers are committed to raising hens in enriched cages by 2036. (CBC)

The push for cage-free eggs by fast food companies is not necessarily the best option, according to a farm animal welfare expert at the Atlantic Veterinary College. 

Michael Cockram at UPEI's Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre says he approves of the standards the Egg Farmers of Canada announced Friday, with Canadian commercial producers committing to raise hens in enriched cages by 2036.

These cages almost double the space for the birds and provide nesting boxes, perches and grooming areas. 
Michael Cockram of the Atlantic Veterinary College says cage-free eggs are not necessarily the best option. (Atlantic Poultry Research Institute)

While no one system is perfect, said Cockram, and all have their pros and cons, he supports the Canadian industry moving to the enriched cages model. 
"I think it's unfortunate that some companies are being pressurized to go cage-free, because that would preclude the enrich or furnished cage, and that does offer a number of welfare advantages and it's very feasible for the industry to transition to," said Cockram.

Cage-free farming — where hens roam free in a barn, also know as free-run — can lead to aggressive behaviour, such as pecking and cannibalism, said Cockram, and it's more difficult for farmers to keep the environment clean. 

On Feb. 4. Cara Foods, which owns Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey's and East Side Mario's, became the latest food company to announce a switch to 100 per cent cage-free eggs in its entire supply chain. The company said its transition to cage-free would be complete by 2020.

Tim Hortons/Burger King plans to be cage-free in its supply chain by 2025. McDonald's, Wendy's, Starbucks, Subway and dozens of other major food restaurants and retailers have announced similar policies.


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