Cage-free eggs: marketing animal welfare to consumers
Cage-free eggs are suddenly everywhere. Along with “certified humane” beef, “cage-free” is one of marketers’ favourite new buzzwords. Walmart, McDonalds, Denny’s – some of the world’s largest corporations have jumped on board the cage-free bandwagon. And for good reason.
For years, animal rights organizations have been trying to wake consumers up to the horrific conditions suffered by factory farmed hens. Layer hens often next in cages the size of a sheet of typing paper.
Cages sound bad. And mean. Are they?
Unsurprisingly, this cages people feel bad. And as marketers everywhere know, exploiting guilt is one of the easiest ways to consumers hearts. “Choosy moms choose Jif” – what kind of monster would give their kids anything else?!
Likewise, if you care about chickens, marketers argue, you don’t put them in cages. So it’s pretty clear from a marketing standpoint, cage-free eggs are the way to go. But what about the actual ethics involved?
That’s a little more complicated. It seems like cage-free is a no-brainer. Except it’s not. It just sound nicer.
Anna Hui wrote a great article in Canada’s Globe and Mail last week about the rising popularity of cage-free eggs. The article points out that cage-free is not much of an improvement over its battery cage counterpart. In spite of a small increase in space, chickens still can’t engage in their natural nesting behaviours, so to the chickens, it makes little difference.
Cage-free eggs are not the same as pasture raised (i.e., chickens in the field, scavenging for insects and soaking up the sunshine) or even free range (chickens that have occasional access to the outdoors). People are starting to figure this out. In fact, the restaurant chain Denny’s just got in trouble for a cute commercial they made portraying chickens ambling freely on something akin to Old MacDonald’s farm as a way to market their decision to go cage-free.
By the way, if this issue interests you, I strongly suggest visiting the link to the Globe and Mail article taking a look at Costco’s organic chickens. You can see a photo of their halfway through the article. Is that what you envisioned?
The average Canadian ate 18 dozen eggs last year, nearly one per day. This adds up to 600 million dozen. That’s a lot of eggs, and requires . Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a logistical possibility to give all those hens the space they really need.
What is the humane choice?
If you truly care about animals, the best and most consistent way to protect them is to stop using them for animal agriculture.
If you plan to continue eating animal products, eating less is probably far more important that what label is on the products you buy. A label might make you feel better, but it’s almost impossible to really know how the animals are actually being treated, and it’s impact is much smaller. Sorry.
As the Globe and Mail article points out, unless you are paying $9-11 a dozen, you are not getting pasture-raised eggs, which is what most consumers really want. Even then, don’t forget, male chicks are completely useless (unless you’re a backyard farmer, and then they might be raised and eaten). This means at least 50% of chickens from layer breeds are killed right after emerging from their eggs.
Fortunately, more options are cropping up! Hampton Creek Farms, a silicon valley startup specializing in vegan foods, is following up its smash hit Just Mayo (egg-free mayonnaise) with Just Scramble (egg-free scrambled eggs). Early reviews are very positive and I am really looking for Just Scramble’s arrival this fall.
In the meantime, Follow Your Heart has released a product it calls The Vegan Egg. It isn’t available in Canada at this time, but you can find it on Amazon.com and specialty shops. My husband has been bugging me to try it (he loves eggs and would like to stop buying them), so maybe I’ll have to order some and do a review!