Producing a Good Egg, Sustainably
While the recent increase in the price of eggs has captured consumers’ attention, the process of producing those eggs and how it affects the price, however, is likely not as familiar.
Egg farmers and retailers have worked together to study several factors involved in egg production, with an emphasis on ensuring food safety and affordability. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply – which includes leading experts in animal welfare, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, restaurants and food retailers – has released the results of its research study.
“Consumer interest in how hens are housed has been growing. However, good science-based information about the sustainability of various hen housing systems and egg production has not been available on a commercial scale,” said Darrin Karcher, Extension Specialist in the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University and CSES Project Director.
Hen Housing Makes a Difference
To support broader understanding, leading scientists at Michigan State University, University of California, Davis and elsewhere studied flocks of hens in three different types of housing:
- Conventional cage: Nearly 95 percent of eggs are produced in these systems, where six to nine laying hens share space.
- Enriched colony: This type of housing provides more space per bird than conventional cages and also offers perches, nesting areas and scratch pads.
- Cage-free: Hens can roam through defined sections of an enclosed barn and can exhibit additional natural behaviors, such as dust bathing and attempted flight.
The Survey Says
Over the course of three years, researchers measured and compared five different sustainability factors in each housing system: animal health and well-being, food safety and quality, the environment, worker health and safety, and food affordability.
Researchers found a variety of positive and negative aspects with each system. Of interest to many consumers, eggs produced in conventional cage housing had the lowest cost of production, in part because that system had the lowest hen mortality rate and required the least amount of labor to maintain.
“With these science-based research results, we have a better understanding of hen housing sustainability. Consumers can use this information to make informed purchasing decisions that best align not only with their values about how hens should be housed, but also their grocery budgets,” Karcher said.
Find more information about sustainable egg production, videos, interactive infographics and the CSES research results at sustainableeggcoalition.org.
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