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Expensive vote

It was not just Clinton and Trump ruling the November 8th vote, at least not in the US state of Massachusetts. Voters there also had the possibility to make a choice on a ballot initiative. Question 3 on the ballot will increase their food bill by $45 per person per year without the benefits hoped for. This question is all about cage or cage free egg production.

The National Association of Egg Farmers sought media coverage in 35 daily newspapers to show the facts about today's modern cage layers and that support for the initiative is a step backwards in egg production.

A ballot of emotion and not fact

While cage-free egg farming is claimed by many as the future, the facts show it is a reversion to the past. This is the law of unintended consequences where voters are encouraged to “feel” with the wording of the ballot initiative instead of examining the facts.

A move to cage-free egg farming is a move backwards

More than 5 decades ago, egg farming transitioned to cages to improve the lives of the chickens (reduced mortality by half), the quality of the eggs (by removing the likelihood of the eggs coming in contact with manure) and the working conditions of the farmer (less dust from the chickens scratching in the shavings). Even the most recent investigation into the best production systems as investigated by scientists in the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply dispute conclusions made in the ballot. McDonald's was one of a list of contributors to this investigation. Those scientists reported to McDonald's and others that cage-free systems lead to more deaths among chickens due to their establishing a pecking order.

Cage-free more likely to have Salmonella

Penn State researchers recently published the results of a 6-month study testing 6,000 eggs and concluded backyard flocks or cage-free were more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella. Farmers today know how to produce a safe and wholesome egg while caring for their chickens. Those food companies will also learn that cage-free is not the consumers' choice. Check out the stores selling both and find which ones the consumers are buying. In the future, egg production will revert back to keeping chickens in cages once food companies learn the lessons farmers learned 5 decades ago.

Ken Klippen


  • Scott Tyack

    Wasn't the ballot to prevent "restrictive" cages rather than requiring cage-free? Or does the new requirement mean that all cages are restrictive and cage-free is the only option?

    the ballot can be found at:

  • Lisa Steele

    I agree that while cage-free sounds great to consumers concerned about chicken welfare, it's actually not the nirvana you might think. Caged birds are also safe from aggression, bullying and pecking issues, all common in bored, confined flocks. Great article.
    Fresh Eggs Daily

  • Alex Ryzy-Ryski

    In defining what 'in cage' is, which is fairly narrow, you have 'cage free' which creates the bucolic illusion in the voting consumers mind that the birds roam on green pastures as in the 108 description. You quoted the higher but mortality rates but in which setting? Outdoor flocks or in house? The definition(s) of cage free are to say the very least, confusing to the consumer reading a label. I don't agree with the cage free mandates and believe the dumbed down consumer has an obligation to learn and choose their sources of food. The study in my opinon is an obfuscation at best much in the same vein that 'organic' egg production is allowed synthetic methionine in the feed. The truth is in the definitions, unfortunately the definitions change to accommodate profits. The regulators are not to be trusted.

  • Yuan-Tai Hung

    In my opinion, the final decision of raising cage-free egg or not cage-free egg could be made by consumers. Although we have learned some drawbacks of raising cage-free chicken from this article, certain customers would like to spend more bucks to buy cage-free eggs. Therefore, it makes sense why cage-free egg exists on the markets.
    I think producers or academics should offer a bridge between public and producers work, so customers will have a basic knowledge to judge whether to support cage free eggs or not.

  • N Dinkgreve

    One important fact has ben omitted from the article. Recent studies have also concluded a higher probability of nutrient deficiency in commercial cage-free systems due to the proximity of the food (food and water is not as easily accessible than that of a cage layer system). There is virtually no chance of nutrient deficiency in cage layers as the hens have immediate access to food and water. The only way a cage layer system could have nutrient deficiency is of course if the Nutritionist does not provide the necessary dietary requirements of what a hen needs to lay at optimum conditions.

  • G G Arzey

    Often the past appears rosy as a result of selective memory. Chickens were placed in cages predominately because it was more profitable and convenient.
    Survey of Salmonella in different housing systems have not been as definitive as your one cited study. True, pecking order and social interactions are more of an issue in FR and barn chickens but I have seen and examined records of FR flocks that were well managed and with a mortality not higher than in cages.
    Prof Nicol from the Uni of Bristol, UK described the situation in the FR sector aptly - "The problem is that the management of free range systems in the UK at the moment is so variable, that although you get some brilliant farms, you also get some that are really, really not good."

    In my long involvement with poultry I have also seen caged flocks fitting well into Nicol's category of "very, very not good". It takes long time for any animal husbandry system to fine tune and improve itself.

    Would you prefer marginal freedom from some diseases at the expense of your freedom? But what the heck, chickens unlike us, are quite happy to spend 12-15 months standing on A4 size paper.....How could the voting public fail to understand that chickens are deliriously happy to sacrifice their freedom so chefs could neglect temperature and hygienic requirements with impunity?

  • director dr. Vaicekauskas

    If somebody will start to think about millions people who suffer from hungry and dieing, then would be no questions about cage free or free range chickens!
    Peole loosing there mind and not thinking about nearby people but takinkg time for populistic propaganda!
    It is a pity!

  • G G Arzey

    Dr Vaicekauskas, do you have such little faith in the human race that you believe that discussing compassion to other animals hinders our compassion towards human suffering or perhaps you believe that when cages were the dominant housing system human suffering was a non-issue?

  • David Burch

    Hen mortality is approximately twice as high in free-range birds as it is in cage birds, again according to work at Bristol University. If mortality is a measure of welfare it makes it difficult to argue with cages. It all comes down to farm management and it appears more consistent in cages.

  • G G Arzey

    Indeed –if mortality was the ultimate criterion of welfare, there would be no argument that some Australian native birds are better off in captivity since their life expectancy is on average 20 years shorter in the wild.

    I noted that in your paper (Vet Rec 2012) you concluded that all systems, if they are well managed can have low mortality.

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