At the IEC London Conference held in March, Gene Gregory, President of United Egg Producers (UEP) in the US, spoke about the consequences of banning cages in California.
He discussed with delegates how this decision has affected the local industry, and also addressed the wider implications this will now have on the rest of the US, and ultimately the international egg industry as a whole.
UEP members produce eggs from the full variety of systems; cage, cage-free and organic. Gregory stressed that UEP supports the consumer’s right to choose; that consumers should have the right to “vote with their wallets”. He went on to say that UEP believes that retailers and consumers should not be forced to limit their egg purchases to those from only cage-free systems.
He stressed that the ban of caged eggs in California will not stop people from eating eggs from caged hens, but it will stop the Californian egg farmers from producing them. Consumers, retailers and food service companies will be forced to purchase these eggs from out of state, or ultimately out of country. Currently, the demand for caged eggs has not reduced.
Emotion over science
Gregory told the IEC audience that he believes that the vote in California to ban cage eggs was based on emotion rather than science. He agreed that the free-range system did provide the advantage of freedom of movement, but he also pointed out some disadvantages.
UEP gives its full support to animal welfare guidelines that are produced scientifically. Gene explained that UEP’s aim is to see the implementation of such scientific guidelines; guidelines that are driven by the industry, based on scientific fact, rather than created by government mandates or non-government lobbying organisations.
He shared his personal beliefs and opinions regarding animal lobbying groups; he believes that animal welfare activist groups are using “market intimidation” to force suppliers and retailers to follow their guidelines. It is Grogory's opinion that the Humane Society of the US is one of the most powerful organisations in the US today; this is because it is so successful in its use of the power of emotional persuasion. Gene argues that these groups deliberately use emotional language and powerful images to get mass public support for their causes.
Egg industry to represent itself
Gregory concluded his presentation by urging the egg industry as a whole to take action and tell its story, putting farming facts forward using unbiased scientific studies. He explained that UEP has already began working towards this; it is currently working with the American Veterinarian Association and other animal welfare associations and organisations, exploring options for science based animal welfare guidelines.