Animal Rights

Can Egg Producers Recover from November's Great Fall?

Large farms have been stung by two recent setbacks. What's next?

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Eggs
UnitedSoybeanBoard / CC BY

Supporters of animal agriculture—of the sort that can feed people inexpensively and on a large scale, at least—are reeling after two stinging defeats last month.

The first blow came in Massachusetts, where residents voted to adopt Question 3, which mandates a minimum cage size for raising livestock on farms in the state, around the country, and around the world that sell eggs, pork, and veal in Massachusetts. That law effectively means chickens, pigs, and veal calves must be raised in a "cage-free" environment. The second blow came with the defeat of an appeal in federal court challenging a similar law in California.

The purpose of the California law is to "to prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals." Similarly, the Massachusetts law is intended to "to prevent animal cruelty." The latter also claims that caged livestock "threaten the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers, increase the risk of foodborne illness, and have negative fiscal impacts on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

But a closer look shows it's these two laws, in fact, that may harm the health of livestock and humans and wreak negative economic consequences.

As I described in a column this summer, "'cage-free' hens are typically raised in aviaries—large, cramped egg-laying warehouses in which hens are more likely to attack, kill, and eat one another, and hens and livestock workers are more likely to become sick."

If that sounds grim, it is.

"In short, liberating hens from cages—and holding them in aviaries—doesn't necessarily make them, or the workers who handle them, any healthier," wrote the New York Times's David Gelles, in an eye-opening piece earlier this year that pierced the halo surrounding cage-free eggs. Notably, research backs up Gelles's expose.

If the health benefits of mandating cage-free eggs are questionable at best, the financial benefits of doing so appear to be nonexistent. As Wired reported earlier this year, in an excellent article that's worth reading for the great flow chart alone, shifting from caged to cage-free methods poses a host of existential perils for many farmers. For farmers who want (or are forced) to make the switch, the costly transition will take years—a decade or more, in many cases—to achieve.

Egg prices rose last year after a massive outbreak of avian flu. But the price some farmers charged for a dozen eggs had already doubled in California in 2014, as its cage-free law was set to take effect.

As these charts show, the days of eggs serving as cheap protein available to the masses could be ending. If that happens, then we'll have foolhardy regulations to blame.

Unlike the Massachusetts law, California's applies to egg-laying hens but not to pigs or veal calves. Like the Massachusetts law, the California law violates the dormant Commerce Clause, as I explain here. That issue had been at the heart of the California lawsuit case. Last month, though, the Ninth Circuit Court upheld a 2014 lower court ruling that the plaintiffs—attorneys general from six egg-producing states—did not have standing to challenge the law.

I agree with the plaintiffs on the premise behind the challenge, but with the Ninth Circuit's ruling on the standing issue. "In short," as I wrote in 2014, "the wrong people made the right arguments." But that doesn't mean that law—or the new Massachusetts law—could or should withstand a court challenge.

"Large egg producers certainly could file an action like this one on their own," wrote Ninth Circuit Court judge Susan Graber. That's something supporters of the Massachusetts and California laws are ready for.

"Some agribusiness interests may want to force states like California and Massachusetts to allow the commerce in substandard and cruel products that these two states have rightly determined to be repugnant to their values," said Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy?with the Humane Society of the United States, in an email to me this week. "States have the right to protect their citizens from inhumane and unsafe products, something numerous courts have already ruled on."

While I disagree with Shapiro about the merits of a likely lawsuit, none of this is to say that eggs from caged chickens are in any way better than eggs from chickens that are cage-free or from chickens that roam freely around a farm, pecking at grubs.

There's undoubtedly a growing market for cage-free eggs. But neither voters nor lawmakers in California, Massachusetts, nor any state (nor in Congress, for that matter) have any legitimate power to dictate to farmers the proper size of a chicken's cage. Let's hope a federal court soon agrees.

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  1. none of this is to say that eggs from caged chickens are in any way better than eggs from chickens that are cage-free or from chickens that roam freely around a farm, pecking at grubs.

    Actually, the eggs from free range chickens have great yolks, bright orange from all the beta carotene from the wild diet.

    But they’re bloody expensive. So it’s wrong to make poor people pay for that because rich people want to impose their values on them at the point of a government gun.

    1. I have a few hens, which I let free range. People tell me they’re better than store bought, but I’m not sure I can tell. I know they cook faster. And, yes, the yolks are very orange compared to the ones I used to get from the store. Also, eggs are laid with a protective bloom around the shell, keeping bacteria out and moisture in. The FDA (I believe) requires egg producers to wash them, which removes that bloom which in turn requires the eggs be refrigerated. That very well may be the difference maker.

      And it’s only been about a month and already I’m sick of having eggs for breakfast every morning.

      1. Cock-a-doodle-do! Those roosters are a loud bunch, aren’t they?

        1. What are you? Nuts? I didn’t get any roosters. Only hens.

      2. already I’m sick of having eggs for breakfast every morning

        This is the part I wonder about, how many eggs can one person or even a typical small family eat? Every day, all week, all month, all year.

        Now, if you want to trade excess eggs for my excess potatoes, then maybe we can work out a deal.

        1. You’ll have to prove that your potatoes are free range.

          1. And ill tempered!

        2. I don’t think I can get sick of them. Been the staple of my b’fast for years. I’m up to 6/morning now. …Almost wish I had a few hens

          1. Yeah, we have eggs every morning. Ours come from a small farmer near us and are wonderful.

            Eggs are the perfect food.

        3. Let “Cool Hand Luke” be your guide.

        4. “This is the part I wonder about, how many eggs can one person or even a typical small family eat? Every day, all week, all month, all year.

          Is this related to having some chickens in your yard? You do know you have some control over the number, as the amount of eggs you will get will depend on the number of hens and breed you have.

          When we first got some hens we had three Golden Laced Wyandottes. Once they got laying we were getting about four to five eggs per week from each; so just over a dozen per week total. During winter with the cold and reduced amount of daylight we got about 5 eggs total a week. Now, we have three more hens, one each Speckled Sussex, Buff Orpington and Silver Dorking. The first two are very productive egg layers but the Dorking gives us two to three a week. (we know because she is the only one to lay cream colored eggs, the rest lay brown eggs.)

          The number of eggs you need – well that depends on the people in your household. We have a 14 year-old boy who would eat an egg for breakfast every day. For our family of four we used up all the eggs, but then we also use them in baking.

      3. Sounds like a taste test job for Penn & Teller!

            1. The unsuspecting subjects of the experiments are supposed to do the eating, not the talent. Review their experiment on bottled water.

      4. Make pancakes. Free range eggs are fantastic in any baked good, but yeah, really expensive.

      5. The FDA (I believe) requires egg producers to wash them, which removes that bloom which in turn requires the eggs be refrigerated. That very well may be the difference maker.

        In Europe they don’t wash that off, so you always see eggs there unrefrigerated. I don’t recall noticing any big difference, but it’s really impossible to tell without a side by side test. And there are many other things that could make a difference too.

      6. The FDA (I believe) requires egg producers to wash them

        If you look at eggs in most other countries that don’t mandate these stupid practices, they are far superior to shitty American eggs.

      7. I know they cook faster.

        Because you don’t refrigerate them. Everybody else, take your eggs out of the fridge and let them come to temp before using.

        1. Why you crazy son of a bitch, that might actually be it.

          1. I’ve tested it thoroughly in countless pots of ramen.

    2. I’m curious about in terms of the colouration, chicken breed may play a partial, if not comolete, role. Here in not-so-frozen New Hampshire I have been buying grocery store chain eggs for as long as I can remember since living here +20 years. I generally either get the “house” brown shell egg with no special “organic” or “free range” proclamations or presentations on the packaging. From time to time I will acquire Land-O-Lakes brown shell eggs, sourced from all kinds of Midwest egg farms, and those eggs also have a very rich amber-yellow. In Sweden I noticed the egg yolks would project and almost peach hue onto scrambled eggs. Eggs sourced from Thailand or Australia would be all over the place too.

      While I can recall buying eggs with a “pale” yolk in some local restaurants in NH, and as raw eggs in other geographical locations in the continental US, it’s by no means a uniform thing based on my experience. Pending further research, I’m kind of skeptical of attributing the pale colouration to big nasty tight cage factory farms as a sole cause.

      1. After some extensive super super deep Google research I am convinced that diet plays the dominant role in yolk coloration, but I’m not convinced that pale yolk = teh badd at this point.

        1. What if you add to the food some of that yellow egg dye Chinese restaurants use? You can get it in bulk from Asian grocers.

      2. Most large egg producers add beta carotene to the feed. I know Land-o-Lakes does.

        1. This is also the secret to colorful aquarium fish. Krill have it naturally, otherwise there’s plenty of flakes on the market now with supplemental carotene.

    3. I’m pretty convinced that the eggs of farmyard chickens that can wander around and eat bugs are better and have more flavor in the yolks. Not that standard eggs are bad.
      I always think it’s funny when some of the premium expensive eggs advertise an “all vegetarian diet” for their chickens as if that’s a good thing.

      1. “I always think it’s funny when some of the premium expensive eggs advertise an “all vegetarian diet” for their chickens as if that’s a good thing.”

        Which means the hens must be confined in some un-natural way so that they do not have access to bugs, worms and other critters. I wonder how many people who buy these “all vegetarian diet” eggs also think that the hen is happily roaming around some bucolic field?

      2. Well how else should one expect to get rid of vegetarians unless someone feeds em to the chickens and passes on the costs to consumers? The local landfill/dump doesn’t take vegetarians for free and letting them wander around homeless doesn’t seem to work well either.

    4. you assume that “free range” means of necessity a “wild diet”. Ever seen chickens running on a larger area, bare dirt, wiht their feed, all processed and such, scattered about or contained in metal feeders? They are “cage free” or “free range” as they are at liberty to wander about. But consider this: NONE of these silly laws say a word about what they will be provided for food.

      Are you, and these corrupt law drafters, naif enough to believe just because the birds are free to wander about openly their diet is anything other than what they’d get if they were yet in their cages?

      And I’ve eaten plenty of eggs from cage-raised laying hens with decent diets being at least as “great” as the “cage free” and “free range” ones from massive operations designed to “comply” with the new stupid laws, and at half the price.

  2. Godammit, this fucking swolescimination is bullshit. How are we supposed to be huge if we can’t afford to drink a dozen raw eggs every morning?

    1. Eat the shells, too. Not for any nutritional value. Just for the intimidation factor.

      1. A ton of calcium in the shell. It will make your beak bones very strong

  3. Like heating costs, rising food prices disproportionately affect the poor. That matters not to the types that push these kinds of laws. They get a notion in their heads and they’re not going to back down no matter how much evidence you present that it’s unwanted, unnecessary and counterproductive. Whether it’s climate change legislation or this kind overbearing regulation on food production, they want what they want.

    1. Many of these supporters want to ban animal consumption, they just cannot outright do it. Incrementalism is the answer. Make meat based food so expensive that people move to slightly less expensive hippy grown organic vegetarian food.

    2. How does it affect them? When the price of eggs goes up, the EBT card payments go up and the recipients get to by more fountain sodas.

    3. Just another reason to blacklist the seditious crapbags that push this garbage.

    4. Looked into HSUSA much? As corrupt and bought off an organisation as ever existed. Their goal? To make us a nation of soy-fed vegans and lock us all up within “planned” cities, like a bunch of drones, or droids.

  4. I ate Snow for dinner.

    1. Ha! I had her children for breakfast!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMwjK9W7btA

    2. Dumb fuck goes into an empty restaurant.

      1. The optimist in me wants to believe it’s performance art. The cynic says burn it all down, we’re done here.

  5. Idiot pols that don’t understand farming ruin it with asinine regulations.

    News at 11.

  6. The first blow came in Massachusetts, where residents voted to adopt Question 3, which mandates a minimum cage size for raising livestock on farms in the state, around the country, and around the world that sell eggs, pork, and veal in Massachusetts.

    Not a Commerce Clause violation? (OK, I’ll stop laughing.)

    1. living constitution, etc.

      the commerce clause allows the feds to do anything they want, but can’t be used to prevent interstate trade barriers??? what a mess of such a simple text!

    2. Oh my, that indeed was a good one!

    3. I think the commerce clause means that the feds could stop laws like this, but doesn’t oblige them to.

      1. Dormant commerce clause.

    4. Silly Rabbit, the Commerce Clause is for health care and other federal mandates.

  7. Someone is going to end up with egg on their face.

    Some people want food animals to have a groovy life up until they are killed as food.

    1. I thought people were more likely to wind up with sperm on their faces, not egg.

    2. The wonderful people for Florida have seen fit to place protection for pregnant pigs in our State Constitution.

      But still, no state income tax.

      So at least we have that.

  8. I strongly suspect that the goal of many of the animal rights activists is the total outlawing of all animal based food, and the rest of them seem to have some fantasy that if chickens are not in cages, they will be roaming around farmer Bob’s back yard during their productive years, and then be retired to a big farm out in the country where they can happily pass their declining years.

    1. with a nice retirement pension, right? Government supplied? One more “unfinded liabitlity”

  9. Ernie the Embalmer is dead. Hopefully he’ll be back up and at it in a couple of hours.

  10. Interesting. Possible explanations?

    The researchers analyzed health and physical activity data on 80,306 adults (average age 52), including the frequency and intensity of their participation in various sports. In a span of about nine years, 8,790 people died, including 1,909 from cardiovascular disease. People who regularly swam, played racket sports (tennis, squash or badminton) or did aerobics (including dancing) were less likely to die for any reason, but especially from cardiovascular disease, than were people who did not participate in those sports. The reduced risk for cardiovascular death was 36 percent for aerobics, 41 percent for swimming and 56 percent for racket sports. Cycling and running did not reduce the odds of cardiovascular death.

    1. You have to move your whole body to reduce the odds of cardiovascular death.

      1. Probably. I also think most people who run and/or cycle don’t push very hard and call it exercise anyway.

        1. To me, exercise basically means you do enough to work up a decent sweat. I walk daily and work up a good sweat even at 20 degrees. My health is better for doing that. But maybe I need to get out those old Denise Austin tapes to do better.

          1. Traci Lords also has an exercise video.

        2. Yup. I pass them all the time, me doing about 20, they about 12. I’m in mid to high zone three, they in low xone three, because their cardio conditioning is nowhere near mine. Some will try and keep up with me after I pass them.. after well under a mile, I’ve blown them up and they are doing about ten, panting hard. I have not changed pace for thirty miles or more….. yup. Cycling is only as exherting as you make it.

    2. Because nutrition influences the risk of cardiovascular death more than exercise and the LSD (long, slow distance) ‘athletes’ are the worst at nutrition, i.e. low-fat/high carb

    3. How many people play racket sports?

      1. The euphemisms around here keep getting more and more bizarre.

    4. There’s been a lot of literature about how running too much is actually harmful, and most regular runners run a hell of a lot more than the studies say they should. We tend to think that more is better, but too much running stresses your heart. Before I hurt my back, I used to run for an hour a day, four or five times a week (probably how I hurt my back, too). Mostly, it was about the endorphin addiction and staying thin despite my diet.

      “Conclusions The findings suggest a U-shaped association between all-cause mortality and dose of jogging as calibrated by pace, quantity, and frequency of jogging. Light and moderate joggers have lower mortality than sedentary nonjoggers, whereas strenuous joggers have a mortality rate not statistically different from that of the sedentary group.

      “Dose of Jogging and Long-Term Mortality”

      “Journal of the American College of Cardiology”

      http://content.onlinejacc.org/…..ID=2108914

      They’re saying the optimal time is one to two hours per week.

      Running five hours a week is by no means unusual, and your chances of having a heart attack go up to lard-ass level.

      P.S. If you ride a bike, get a no-nose seat so you’re not sitting on your dick.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10…..-life.html

      1. “Mostly, it was about the endorphin addiction and staying thin despite my diet.”

        Also, what’s the scientific term for getting laid a lot–“biological imperative”?

        1. The literature usually uses the term, “Mad Rutty”.

      2. There’s been a lot of literature about how running too much is actually harmful

        I’ve known a few people who jog all the time whenever they get a chance. They scoff whenever I tell them how bad it is for them. They get a high from it, so they’ll never stop, but it’s just not good for you.

        1. That’s me.

          The endorphin rush is a big part of it.

  11. ‘cage-free’ hens are typically raised in aviaries?large, cramped egg-laying warehouses in which hens are more likely to attack, kill, and eat one another, and hens and livestock workers are more likely to become sick.”

    In the Shenandoah Valley, when I was working my way through boarding school, they used to hire people to go into the aviaries in the spring to collect all the chickens that survived the winter and bag the ones that died. They’d give you a respirator and thigh high, rubber boots–it was like hell in there. The chickens were all up to their breasts in excrement. When they opened the aviaries, the smell would travel for miles down the valley and last for days.

    Once the chickens were gone, you’d clean the place out. It was an environmental hazard. In Southern California, you don’t want to go surfing after it rains. And you don’t want to go swimming or fishing in the Shenandoah River after they open up those huge aviaries in the spring either. It’s an environmental hazard. And you’ll know when they open them. From miles away, you’ll know.

    1. Shenandoah Valley

      Fun fact: life is old there, older than the trees.

      1. That’s across the Shenandoah river, and then up over the other side of the Blue Ridge mountains–in West Virginia.

        The Hillbillies are dumber in WEST Virginia.

        The dirt is dumber in West Virginia.

  12. Fuck’em. Don’t sell eggs in these states. Let’s see how long it lasts given all the products that contain eggs.

    1. Oh yea, that will work. Until the feds break down your door for refusing to sell anything to people who hate you.

    2. It ends up being a rent-seeking racket for local egg producers in those states, to some extent, I’m sure.

      The people who run Massachusetts don’t give a shit about whether poor people can’t afford to pay double for eggs. Isn’t that welfare is for?

      Besides, those poor people should be eating whole grains with soy milk instead.

      1. “The people who run Massachusetts don’t give a shit about whether poor people can’t afford to pay double for eggs. Isn’t that welfare is for?”

        Gov’t dicking with egg production raises the cost of eggs, poor people can’t afford them, gov’t raises the threshold amount to receive welfare.
        Can’t lose with that approach.

        1. Get ready for the cheapest eggs costing $10/dozen there.

  13. Lesson #1, don’t live in Massholio or Commiefornia.

    1. The reason they can fuck with us so much is because living in Commiefornia is otherwise pretty awesome.

      Lately, I’ve been thinking that the best place to live in the country is on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.

      You get immediate access to a lot of the best of California–without California’s government.

      The Sierras?

      Check.

      Skiing?

      Check.

      Sailing?

      Check.

      Offroad desert experience?

      Check

      During the summer, I’d just as soon spend my time zooming through the thousands of miles of meticulously maintained, twisty mountain roads in the Sierras anyway–all courtesy of California’s taxpayers over funding of CalTrans.

      If I were as rich as Bill Gates, I couldn’t afford to buy the land and build that intertwining network of twisty mountain roads between southern California and Oregon–as my personal motorcycle track–and keep it meticulously maintained. California’s stupid voters give me all that–for a tiny fraction of the cost. I go up there and enjoy it every summer. I sometimes go hundreds of miles and see a dozen motorcycles–but not a single car. Last summer, I went through a section like that–and they were repaving it! Those roads aren’t even leading to ski resorts. They’re closed in the winter!

      Do you know how much it costs to meticulously maintain thousands of miles of those twisty mountain roads?

      On the Nevada side of Tahoe, you’d have immediate access to all of that–but no surfing.

      1. Apparently Reno is actually getting a lot of people who are leaving SF because it is so goddamn expe sive. And so apparently Reno is getting a lot of new money and businesses coming in that are pretty nice.

        1. “…Reno is getting a lot of new money and businesses coming in that are pretty nice.” for now. Wait until all those former SF bay area transplants become a majority and turn Reno into another high-tax and regulation rent-controlled SJW paradise.

          1. Yep. Just like a cancer. Best to euthanize them shortly after they arrive.

  14. Glad to see that Lawmakers are protecting their brethren.

  15. While I disagree with Shapiro about the merits of a likely lawsuit, none of this is to say that eggs from caged chickens are in any way better than eggs from chickens that are cage-free or from chickens that roam freely around a farm, pecking at grubs.

    Since the goal of the law wasn’t to improve the eggs, but rather improve the lives of the chickens laying them, I’m not really sure how this is relevant.

    1. Since the goal of the law wasn’t to improve the eggs, but rather improve the lives of the chickens laying them…

      That isn’t how they sold it to the voters. “Public safety” etc.

  16. “the days of eggs serving as cheap protein”

    Check the fucking cholesterol on the side of your foam pack next you gingerly toss this slimy shell team into your cart- hemp hearts are as cheap, far easier to eat, and less bullshit to prepare- throw a handful on a sandwich.

    Fuck this article. Tons of as cheap or cheaper ways to get protein than eggs off subcontractor fields feeding the nasty screaming bitches who the fuck knows what…

    The fact that Reason needs to defend eggs is suspect. Fuck eggs. If you like them, fine. Eat and enjoy. But penning shit to protect the egg industry? Jesus fucking Christ, Jillette is rolling on a magic stage right now and agile right with him.

    1. Yeah, I’m not crying any tears for these people. Cramming chickens into tiny wire cages, or keeping thousands of them uncaged but equally crammed in dark concrete buildings (aka “free range”) — those are the only two ideas corporate chicken farmers have bothered to try. How about working on a farming concept that doesn’t destroy the environment and treats these animals with a semblance of decency? (See Polyface Farm.) At that point I’ll care about the egg industry being intruded on by the State. But they’ve created this mess for themselves with their terrible treatment of animals finally coming to light, and the environmental disasters they cause with their CAFO’s.

    2. Jesus Who? COme on, man….

      your iggerunts are showing a mite, there…. the protein in plant based foods is NOT the same as protein in animal based foods. How many essential amino acids are there? How easy is it to get enough of all of them in a plant based diet? Proteins are not al created equal. God health requires the mix of all nine essential amono acids. YOU wat yer seeds, fine. I eat them too. But I also will continue to eat eggs, cheese, meat, fish…… YOU won’t be about to pay my med costs when lack of sufficient proteins of proper types has put me under.

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  18. If only other companies would follow Barrett.
    Don’t do business in CA if they want to dictate how you do your business. Take out a bunch of ads telling the people they can buy eggs again after the next election, if they throw the bums out. Until then, enjoy the oatmeal.

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