Ingredients/Shelf-Life: The Cage Free Movement

The U.S. egg industry is going through a major change that is going to shape the way eggs are produced in future years. This is the trend of converting a large proportion of the conventional facilities into cage-free types of facilities. This transition presents all sorts of important challenges that go from birds and worker health, to egg marketing, environmental impact, etc.

The share of the total eggs produced in cage-free was growing very slowly until the second half of 2015 when many restaurant chains announced pledges to buy only cage-free eggs by certain dates (mostly 2020 or 2025), and they were followed by grocery retailers and other types of customers in early 2016. Supplying cage-free eggs to all these customers would require the egg production of 224 million laying hens which is represents more than 2/3 of the U.S. flock.

On a parallel trend, some states passed legislation that will require all eggs sold in their territory to come from cage-free hens, or in facilities that require at least 1 ft2/hen floor space. Some of these state’s regulations have an intermediate step like providing certain space per hen earlier, for example, California Proposition 12 requires cage-free production by 2022 but it is already requiring 1 ft2/hen space as of January 1st 2020. Approximately 75 million people live in the seven states that have passed legislation requiring at least 1ft2/hen space (67 million people live in states that will require cage-free production), and more states are likely to pass legislation in the near future adding at least 10 million more people.

There is some overlap between these 2 trends because many of the customers pledging to source cage-free eggs only have operations in states that already passed laying hens housing legislation, which makes it harder to identify how many total cage-free eggs are going to be needed.

This presentation will not only show the trends but also explain some of the most important challenges the egg industry is facing.

Richard Gates
Egg Industry Center, Iowa State University