Food Service & Agriculture and Government

Egg farmers moving to cage-free production

Animal Industry Act, if signed into law, would require farmers adhere by 2025.

November 29, 2019
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Cage Free Eggs
Meijer and SpartanNash are among hundreds of companies that have made pledges to the Humane Society of the United States to go cage-free by 2025. Courtesy iStock

Some farmers soon may have to adhere to new standards.

A portion of the Animal Industry Act that was recently passed in the Michigan Legislature would require egg farmers who are using more than 3,000 hens to produce cage-free eggs by 2025.

The new standard was passed as the marketplace moves toward cage-free egg production.

According to Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, hundreds of companies have made national commitments with the Humane Society of the United States, promising to sell only cage-free eggs by 2025. Some of those companies include McDonald’s, Costco, Walmart, Meijer, SpartanNash and others, said Allison Brink, executive director of MAPI.

State Sen. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, sponsored Senate Bill 174, or the Animal Industry Act. He said seven farms will be affected, including one of the largest egg suppliers in the country, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Saranac.

Herbruck’s has 6 million laying hens and produces all the eggs for McDonald’s east of the Mississippi, according to Daley.

“We appreciate the Legislature’s leadership in advancing Senate Bill 174 because it will maintain high standards, expand Michigan’s egg industry and position Michigan as a leader in the United States for cage-free egg production,” Herbruck’s President Greg Herbruck said in a statement.

Michigan has 15 million egg-laying hens. The state currently is ranked sixth in the nation in egg production and about 8.5 million hens currently are living in cage-free houses, according to MAPI, representing approximately 56% of the total egg-laying hen population.

Daley said Michigan egg production is a $650 million business, and if the state did not establish new standards, egg farmers likely would go out of business or move to another state because of the commitment the marketplace has made to switch to cage-free housing standards by 2025, which would disrupt the economic impact egg production has on the state. 

However, transitioning to the cage-free standard by 2025 will not be easy.

“Transition to cage-free is not a simple process,” Brink said. “These are complex systems that require, in most cases, that the barns be completely demolished, and a new barn be built. The cage-free standard is in line with the United Egg Producers’ cage-free standard so the birds will be housed within a barn (but) cage-free.

“The UEP’s cage-free standard is the industry standard for a cage-free environment and those are the same cage-free standards adopted by the four other states that have a cage-free law, those states being California, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island.”

Another reason why the transition will not be easy, Daley said, is because of a 2009 law that required egg farmers to adhere to an enhanced cage size.

“The egg hen-laying industry was in a predicament,” he said. “They agreed through legislation that was passed in 2009 that would require them to meet a standard, which was called an enhanced size. That meant that they would go to a larger cage size for their laying hens. In that agreement, they agreed to go to that enhanced cage size by March of 2020.

“Just shortly after they agreed upon it and the Legislature passed the bill, the market for eggs such as Meijer, McDonald’s and others, started coming out with agreements that they would go to cage-free eggs by 2025.”

As a result, egg farmers who expanded their cage size to meet the 2020 deadline will potentially have to remove those new cages and start establishing barns that are cage-free by January 2025.

Daley said he expects the Animal Industry Act to be signed into law soon.

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