Blogging About Critters Since 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Canadian Demand for Free-Range Eggs Lags

There's a whole lot of talk about buying eggs laid by cage-free or free-range chickens. It's the humane thing to do. But surprisingly, in Canada at least, it's the corporations and the governments that are leading the demand for these eggs, not the consumers.

Sparked by concern over the living conditions of commercial egg-laying hens, the B.C. cities of Richmond, Vancouver and Whistler recently vowed that their municipal cafeterias would only serve eggs laid by chickens raised in large open barns instead of stacks of small wire cages.

Those commitments, made earlier this year, were followed by similar moves by employers such as Google and postsecondary institutions such as the University of Guelph in Ontario, the University of British Columbia and Langara College in Vancouver. In the United States, Burger King and ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry's are phasing regular eggs out of their products.

But the recent spate of corporate promises hasn't had the trickle-down effect that animal rights activists have hoped for. Consumers still aren't rushing to buy cage-free eggs - and until that happens, egg producers say there's no reason to tear out their cages.

While cage-free egg sales have grown slightly in recent years, they're nowhere near the skyrocketing sales of other specialty brands, such as omega-3 enhanced eggs, which promise health benefits for people, not chickens. Without market demand, producers aren't rushing to pour millions of dollars into cage-free housing systems.

"You're asking me to produce without a market," says Harold Froese, a second-generation egg producer whose Manitoba facility houses 100,000 hens. "That's pretty tough."

Currently, 98 per cent of the six billion eggs produced each year in Canada come from farms that use caged chickens, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency says.

Photo by Boot Boot.

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