If eggs are a staple in your family’s diet and you’d like to keep it that way, now would be a good time to get a few laying hens. Next month, beginning January 1, 2015, the chicken-and-egg production in the United States is in for a big shock. That’s when California’s new regulations on egg-laying hens goes into effect. And the effects of those regs on eggs will be felt nationally, even globally. The incredible, edible, prolate spheroid-shaped poultry product, which has long been one of the most affordable sources of high-quality protein, is certain to become significantly more expensive.
In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States spent $10 million on a statewide campaign in California to pass Proposition 2, which bans the sale of eggs from hens kept in restrictive “battery cages” that are lined row-on-row in major hatcheries. Battery cage systems, which are the standard in the industry, account for over 90 percent of the eggs produced in the country.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and its allies convinced California voters to support Proposition 2 by claiming that battery cages: a) are cruel, not allowing chickens free, natural movement, and; b) increase incidence of salmonella in eggs. The cruelty charge is moral/esthetic argument open to debate under those parameters. The salmonella charge, on the other hand, gives the appearance of being scientific and falling under the state’s purview of health and safety protection. However, the science supporting the salmonella justification appears to be weak, and was likely tagged on to the initiative by HSUS to win consumer support for its larger “animal rights” agenda. Nevertheless, the Golden State’s new standards require that the minimum size of each hen’s cage increase from a floor of 67 square inches to 116 square inches, an increase of more than 73 percent. Rebuilding coops and cages is costly, especially on top of the increased costs of the severe drought that has afflicted California and much of the West.
In order to meet the new standards, chicken farmers will have to either build more cages, reduce the number of hens — or both. That translates into higher costs for each chicken and egg; which, in turn, translates into higher costs for consumers. How much higher is the big unknown, at this point. The price Californians pay for eggs may jump as much as 20 percent in three to six months, according to Dermot J. Hayes, an agribusiness professor at Iowa State University in Ames quoted by Bloomberg.com on December 13.