Without agreement, U.S. egg industry faces 'chaos'

Published on: Feb 2, 2013
A "discussion" about alternative housing for hens in Germany began in the 1960s and led to a ban on conventional cage housing in January 2010, and the consequences of the ban were a 23.5% decrease in egg production in Germany and an increase in the importation of eggs from Holland, according to Dr. Hans-Wilheim Windhorst at the University of Vechta.

Production is recovering slowly but still will be lower in 2015 than pre-ban levels, he said.

The ban on conventional cage housing in the European Union in January 2012 had similar results in the E.U., he said.

Windhorst, who does statistical work for the International Egg Commission, spoke to a meeting about the future of the U.S. egg industry during the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 31.

He commended the United Egg Producers (UEP) for striking an agreement with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that would establish a national standard for hen housing in the U.S. by replacing conventional cages with enriched colony cages over a 16-year phase-in period. He said this would prevent the problems that were associated with the transition in the E.U., where there was no phase-in program.

He noted that if the HSUS-UEP agreement is not implemented, HSUS will revert to its cage-free initiative by re-launching ballot measures, legislative pushes and undercover videos to force U.S. egg production into cage-free operations. This would make marketing eggs in the U.S. -- if not producing eggs in the U.S. -- inefficient and expensive, if not impossible, he said.

Without the agreement, "the situation in the U.S. would be more chaotic than that in the E.U.," he said.

He also noted that countries concerned about hunger, including China, India, Mexico and countries in South America, are not engaged in "discussions" about banning conventional cages. Their focus, he said, "is on affordable and safe egg supplies."

Windhorst also said egg producers and other livestock and poultry producers need to make their operations more open and transparent, suggesting that "transparency is a must to have consumer trust."

He reported that the German egg industry developed the "Transparency In the Poultry Industry" (TIPI) project in which egg production facilities were opened to the public on Sundays.

He said TIPI has attracted thousands of visitors who, after seeing how eggs are really produced, said they were given inaccurate and misleading information by the activists and media, and "we can now trust you."

He said the TIPI project is being expanded.