July 17, 2011
Noted international chicken fancier that I am, readers are undoubtedly surprised that I took off last week to do blog maintenance when I could have been musing on the earthshaking events of the eggworld. In case you missed it the United Egg Producers, the main membership organization for commercial egg producers, and the Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, called off their feud last week. On Wednesday, July 7, UEP and HSUS announced that they would jointly support Federal legislation that would mandate the “colony” system for housing all egg laying hens in the United States.
Where should I start with this one? The “colony” system is also called the “enriched cage”. It’s a big cage with places for nesting, perching, scratching and dust bathing—all things that chickens like to do. Unlike the cages that the egg industry has been using for the last thirty or forty years, these cages allow chickens more freedom of movement and also an opportunity to express many of their natural behaviors. It is, however, still a cage.
As I explained when I wrote a blog in February 2010, that is not entirely a bad thing. It’s important to limit group size in layers. But at that time animal protectionists, including HSUS, were having none of cages. Within 24 hours of posting that blog, someone named “Tim” posted a lengthy comment decrying UEP as a discredited industry trade group with a sordid history of consumer fraud and animal cruelty. Now last week I was complaining about robots, but Tim was not only quite the opposite, this is only time that any one has clearly found this blog and posted a critical comment in a year and a half of blogging! Well, there was the time that the rep from Nordic Naturals found my blog on the organic trade show, but that took her a couple of weeks.
Excuse me if I suspect that a cadre of chicken lovers out there were monitoring the Internet for posts supportive of UEP, ready to stomp out any hint that cages, however big and comfy, might be an improvement worth supporting. And excuse me again if I speculate that as the 800 pound gorilla of animal protection, HSUS might have been nudging these chicken lovers along, one way or another—like ordering in coffee & donuts for the late night shift, or something.
I hasten to add that I don’t have evidence for this. It could just as easily been PETA or perhaps Tim is even more of a noted chicken fancier than I am, so much so that he spends every spare moment trolling the Internet for the latest blog post on what’s shaking in eggworld. And he does this for nothing other than the sheer satisfaction that he is “outing” discredited industry trade groups (or at least those with a sordid history of consumer fraud and animal cruelty). Who knows? Maybe Tim spends hours in front of the J.W. West “Hen-Cam”, where you can monitor layers in an enhanced cage—Ooops! I mean “colony housing system”. I picture him there, stubby golf pencil in hand, scouring the screen for evidence of consumer fraud and animal cruelty. If so, Tim, be advised that there are numerous chicken cams for you to monitor. In fact, it’s probably a high water mark of Western civilization that you can now watch chickens on several continents simultaneously. Which brings to mind my comments on watching six different televisions all at the same time. But that’s another story altogether.
There is a serious ethics point to debate here, but I’m just not in a serious mood. If you want dour, well the rather serious National Pork Producers Council based in Iowa issued a statement denouncing the UEP/HSUS agreement. Take a look at that. And its clear that there are egg producers and animal protectionists alike that are outraged by this agreement. All the real background poop on this issue was in the original Thornapple blog, however, so go read it there! For now I’m going to gloat (gloating fool that I am) and I don’t even care to explain why.
Any comments, Tim?
Paul B. Thompson serves on the United Egg Producers Scientific Advisory Board, as well as the faculty at Michigan State University