Few animal welfare issues have permeated the public consciousness as the plight of the egg-laying hen, but Canada is taking a wait-and-see approach to new cage regulations.
Europe has already adopted new cage regulations and the U.S. is poised to move forward with even larger cages for hens. However, Canada continues to use cages nearly half the size of those used in Europe.
Here in Canada, what we ve wanted to do is wait and ensure that the claims being made are, in fact, seen once they are put into practice, said David Webb, marketing and communications co-ordinator for Alberta Egg Producers.
I know we re also very closely monitoring Europe because they ve put their ban in already, ahead of the U.S.
In Alberta, egg producers must adhere to the 2003 Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Laying Hens, which specifies that each white layer hen should have a minimum space of 67 square inches, and brown layers should have a minimum of 75 square inches. In Europe, the minimum standard is 116 square inches for each bird. In the U.S., the current proposal is for each animal to have between 124 and 144 square inches.
New, larger cages aren t the only proposed changes. As in Europe, the U.S. wants a more natural environment for the hens, with perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas. The improvements are anticipated to cost $4 billion to implement, with a phase-in period of up to 18 years. The large U.S. cage size was the result of discussion and bargaining with the U.S. Humane Society, said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Growers of America.
The enriched colony cage size at 124 square inches per white laying hen is greater than European standards and what is currently acceptable scientific justification, Gregory said in an interview with AF. In all negotiations, both sides find that there is a give-and-take position and therefore the 124 square inches was a negotiated space per hen.
In Europe, producers must begin using the larger cages by January 2012 and, as in the U.S., the cages must have nests, perches and scratching areas.
The U.S. legislation also prohibits feed and water deprivation forced molting, requires vet-approved euthanasia standards, controls henhouse ammonia levels, and includes comprehensive labels on cartons detailing how the eggs were produced. The new law must be voted on by Congress before it can be enacted.
We have no idea when the U.S. Congress will vote on this proposal, said Gregory. The legislative language we jointly propose has only been written and finalized within the past few days. As yet, it has not been presented to any congressman. We will soon begin seeking a congressman to sponsor a bill. We have set a target date of June 30, 2012 to have passage of legislation.
Alberta already prohibits forced molting, and it doesn t happen in the rest of Canada either, said Webb, adding the Egg Farmers of Canada is conducting its own research on other welfare practices.
It s being primarily handled right now by our national body, said Webb. Even prior to the developments in the U.S., there s been a lot of work ongoing throughout Canada and research being done, particularly into the benefits and impacts of the new model cages, the enriched cages. There s a lot of independent research being done.
Calls to the Egg Farmers of Canada were not returned, and there is no known timeline for research into alternative cages to be complete. However, Webb said change is inevitable and industry wants to be armed with the best available facts, so it can create policy that works for producers, consumers and, of course, the animals.
Certainly it s an issue that s hot on our plate and we re well aware of, he said. We just don t want to jump into anything before we have our definitive information, but certainly, as most people have been saying, there is change in the wind. At some point in time I am sure that some sort of change will be coming, but when and exactly what it will look like I think is yet to be determined in Canada.
ALBERTA EGG PRODUCERS