Oregon’s cage-free hen law will give 4 million birds more room to spread their wings, and will most likely increase the price of eggs.
For anyone who has seen the inside of a factory egg farm, the gruesome images can be difficult to shake. With rows and rows of cramped cages stacked on top of one another, and hens confined to a space they can barely fit inside, it’s hard not to feel sorry for them.
On August 12th, Governor Kate Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1019, which requires all farms with 3,000 or more chickens to house their hens without cages by 2024. The law would affect some 4 million birds in the state, mandating they have space to perch and spread their wings.
The bill affects all eggs sold in Oregon, not just produced; meaning out-of-sate producers will also have to comply with the specifications of the new legislation.
The law also requires certain enrichment items be installed for the hens to enjoy. These new amenities include perches and nests, as well as scratching and dustbathing areas.
Oregon is not the first state in the nation to enact such legislation. California, Washington and Massachusetts have already enacted regulations requiring cage-free hens. Massachusetts faced a legal challenge to their statute from other sates, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the law to take effect.
Animal rights advocates were positively clucking over the news. The Humane Society of the United States called the law a “monumental win” for egg-laying hens in an official statement.
On the egg-producers front, however, reactions to the bill were mixed. Some egg producers grumbled at the new requirements, saying the law would increase the price of eggs without making conditions better for the animals.
Others had a more neutral response.
Chad Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers says members of his organization support “all types” of hen housing, and that the new changes were “complex” and “costly.” But he noted his organization intends to fully comply with Oregon’s new law once it is in place.
Some reactions to the new law were less moderated. Ken Klippen, spokesman for the National Egg Farmers Association, says chickens face certain health issues on the ground they wouldn’t experience if they were held aloft in a cage. “The chickens will be exposed to more pecking from thousands of chickens instead of a very small number in a caged environment. The chickens will be exposed to more diseases. And the consumers will pay nearly twice the price compared to caged chickens, “ stated Klippen.
AJ Albrecht, senior policy advisor at the Mercy For Animals Organization, says the new law will let hens live a more healthy life, not less. “With more living space and enrichments such as perches, nests and areas for scratching and dustbathing, they will be able to spread their wings, walk and engage in other natural behaviors,” says Albrecht “We commend the Oregon legislature for this positive step forward.”
It is true that this law will probably raise the price of eggs somewhat. When similar legislation took effect in California in 2015, a study from Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found the price of eggs increased by approximately 9% as a result of the cage-free law.
Consumers spent between $6.08 and $7.50 more on eggs each year than they had previously. The study also found the law caused a spike in the price of eggs at the beginning of the law’s implementation, up to 33%, but prices eventually declined as time went on.
Consumers shouldn’t be surprised if they start to see the price of eggs increase; the inhumane conditions this bill aims to prevent were devised as cost-saving measures.
But consumers can take comfort in the fact that the hens that laid them are more comfortable.
You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.
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