Cage fight

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Cage eggs fightSupermarket chain ALDI is taking a step to protect hens by phasing out all cage eggs by 2025.

Thousands of consumers wrote in to demand ALDI stop selling caged eggs and it seems the company has listened. The company said in a statement that all of their eggs will be sourced from cage-free hens as their policy shifts over the coming nine years.

“ALDI believes the best outcome will be achieved for everyone when the transition is done co-operatively and collaboratively with the industry, customers and other relevant parties,” the chain said in a statement.

While consumers may be happy the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) are not. They said in a statement that ALDI’s decision shows a “fundamental misunderstanding of cage egg farming systems and their impact on hen welfare.”

AECL’s managing director James Kellaway claimed that ALDI’s new policy would not be giving consumer’s what they want.

“With cage eggs consistently accounting for around 50 per cent of retail sales, it is frankly absurd that ALDI is restricting their customer’s right to exercise choice,” Kellaway said.

“The egg farming industry wishes to continue to supply eggs from cage, barn-laid and free-range farming systems, in line with consumer preferences. The provision of eggs from these systems reflect current demand.”

Kellaway went on to say that hens’ stress levels were not dependent on whether they were kept in free-range, barn or cage environments.

“Research clearly shows that the key to good welfare outcomes for hens is good farm management and that there is no variation in hen stress levels across cage, barn and free-range egg farming systems. It is disappointing that science has also taken a back seat in ALDI’s decision to move away from cage eggs,” Kellaway said.

However, Dr Raf Freire, from Charles Sturt University (CSU), an expert in poultry behaviour and welfare, was reassured by ALDI’s change and refuted Kellaway’s assertion that consumers were demanding caged eggs.

“At a time when we are seeing some retailers put pressure on dairy farmers with unsustainable milk contracts, and potentially serious consequences for dairy cattle welfare, it is reassuring to see ALDI stand by farmers and livestock welfare by proposing to phase out caged hens by 2025.

“Contrary to the AECL’s Managing director’s James Kellaway’s assertion that ALDI is ignoring consumer demand, ALDI is responding to trends in consumer demand and perception. Although cage eggs currently account for 50 per cent or so of grocery retail sales, this is down from close to 90 per cent only a decade ago. This shift by consumers away from purchasing caged eggs is one of the fastest changes in consumer attitudes we have seen anywhere in the world, and ALDI clearly believes that this trend will continue. Considering the number of countries that have banned cage systems, such as those in the whole of the European Union, it is difficult to see this consumer trend for more free-range eggs not continuing.

Dr Freire went on to detail the detrimental effects of cage farming on hens and farmers alike.

“The welfare problems of laying hens in cages have been known for over 20 years, and few countries engage in research in this area any more. It is simply widely accepted that cages fail to meet a hen’s behavioural needs, with serious consequences on hen welfare. It is simply the logical next step for any retailer who wishes to provide animal products to a standard that respects animal welfare and farmer’s wish to engage in best practice that has the support of the public to take the action that ALDI has taken.

“ALDI are providing farmers with reassurance that if they invest time and money in improving animal welfare on farms, they will be rewarded by one retailer. Good for laying hens, good for farmers and consumers are provided with a product that shows respect for animals. What is not to support about that, Mr Kellaway?”

5 COMMENTS

  1. Very biased reporting- where is the other side? There is an awful lot of science proving very poor welfare for the hens. This piece of journalism looks like just a piece of industry hogwash!- I expected more of a magazine that is trying to cater for veterinarians!! What about Well Done Aldi?!!! Please lift your standards Vetpracticemag!!

    • Hi Trudy,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. You may not have made it through to the comments from Dr Raf Freire from Charles Sturt University, which we believe put the Egg Corporation’s comments into clear context.
      Oh, and well done ALDI! All our eggs are coming from there from now on.
      All the best
      the Editorial team.

  2. Congratulations to ALDI for FINALLY agreeing to move away from cage eggs, after initially defending the industry, and for committing to EVENTUALLY phase out cage eggs over 9 years, to come in line with what the other major retailers are achieving sooner and with what they themselves have already achieved overseas. I would be interested in seeing this scientific research that supposedly defends cage systems. If such a thing were to exist, that will be the day I stop believing in science, when it could be used to protect something that is so clearly wrong. Thankfully expert opinion contradicts these layman statements. Consumers have a right to an INFORMED opinion, no-one should have a right to be ignorant, unfortunately many choose to stay this way in order to save a few dollars.

  3. Dear editor,

    Dr Freire has made some fundamental factual flaws in his statements.

    Firstly, he suggests that consumers are not demanding cage eggs. Please let it be known that cage egg sales represent more than 50% of national retail sales and close to 70% of total egg sales in Australia. He is correct to say though that over time the market share of cage eggs has declined. The fact is that ALDI is removing choice from shoppers where the majority of sales (consumers making actual decisions as to what eggs they are buying) are still cage eggs. These shoppers will be disenfranchised through this decision by ALDI.

    Secondly, Dr Freire suggests that ALDI are standing by farmers and livestock welfare. Well, given the farmers that have spoken to me, both large and small farmers, both cage and free range, they are not happy with the decision at all as it is removing choice from consumers, something that the egg industry is passionate about. ALDI is dictating to their customers rather than providing a range of eggs. No doubt some egg producers will be happy with the decision but a number of these producers will have a vested or conflict of interest.

    Thirdly, the whole of the European Union has not banned the production of cage eggs at all. Out of all eggs produced among the 28 EU-member countries, 55% are cage eggs, 27% come from barn-laid systems and 18% are free range. Cage farming systems provide the mainstay of egg production across the EU. On a global basis, 80% of egg production is sourced from cage layer farming.

    Fourthly, it would seem that Dr Freire dismisses the hen welfare advantages that have been widely documented about cages. AECL recognises and accepts that there are welfare advantages and disadvantages of all layer farming systems. Yes, cages restrict some behavioural needs but more extensive systems such as free range result in higher mortality and diseases. As a science discipline, we need to view welfare in its holistic sense, not by solely referring to a narrow definition regarding space. A range of welfare advantages and disadvantages was well documented by the extensive Laywel European Research Programme. Laywel concluded by saying “It may never be possible to provide an ideal [farming] system because increasing the opportunities for behavioural freedom (for example) may unavoidably increase the risk of transmission of certain diseases, or the risk of [bird] injury.”

    I have seen a great variation in welfare outcomes across a range of farming systems for laying hens. There are usually much larger differences in hen welfare outcomes within farming systems than between them. The biggest determinant in hen welfare is not the farming system used but rather the animal husbandry, stockmanship or farm management the farmer brings to the care and well being of his/her laying flock. Banning one farming system will not automatically improve hen welfare. To think so is naive and narrow-minded.

    AECL continually invests and commissions research to improve the welfare outcomes in all farming systems. This effort and ongoing investment will not abate.

    The egg industry cares about: producing the highest quality, safest product; our environment; providing choice; the welfare of our hens; and feeding our growing population with a great value, natural protein food.

    It’s about time some reality and facts were spoken about in the cage debate rather than fallacy…

    Kind regards,
    James Kellaway
    Managing Director
    Australian Egg Corporation

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