Erik Eckholm reported in today’s New York Times that, “Concessions by farmers in this state [Ohio] to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and veal calves are the latest sign that so-called factory farming — a staple of modern agriculture that is seen by critics as inhumane and a threat to the environment and health — is on the verge of significant change.
“A recent agreement between farmers and animal rights activists here is a rare compromise in the bitter and growing debate over large-scale, intensive methods of producing eggs and meat, and may well push farmers in other states to give ground, experts say. The rising consumer preference for more ‘natural’ and local products and concerns about pollution and antibiotic use in giant livestock operations are also driving change.
“The surprise truce in Ohio follows stronger limits imposed by California voters in 2008; there, extreme caging methods will be banned altogether by 2015. In another sign of the growing clout of the animal welfare movement, a law passed in California this year will also ban imports from other states of eggs produced in crowded cages. Similar limits were approved last year in Michigan and less sweeping restrictions have been adopted in Florida, Arizona and other states.”
Today’s article noted that, “Farmers in Ohio have accepted the agreement with chagrin, saying they sense that they must bend with the political and cultural winds. Tim Weaver, whose grandparents started selling eggs in the early 20th century, is proud of his state-of-the art facilities, where four million birds produce more than three million eggs a day. In just one typical barn here at his Heartland Quality Egg Farm, 268,000 small white hens live in cages about the size of an open newspaper, six or seven to a cage.
“Mr. Weaver said that after his initial shock at the agreement, he has accepted it as necessary. He will not be immediately affected since it allows existing egg farms to continue but bars new ones with similar cages. He defends his methods, saying, ‘My own belief is that I’m doing the right thing.’”
The Times article indicated that, “Egg production is at the center of the debate because more than 90 percent of the country’s eggs are now produced in the stacked rows of cages that critics call inhumane.
“Ohio is the country’s second-largest egg producer, after Iowa. In the modern version of an egg barn, hordes of hens live with computer-controlled air circulation, lighting and feeding, their droppings whisked away by conveyor belt for recycling as fertilizer. As the hens jostle one other, their eggs roll onto a belt to be washed, graded and packed without ever being touched by human hands.
“Mr. Weaver insists that his chickens are content and less prone to disease than those in barnyard flocks, saying, ‘If our chickens aren’t healthy and happy, they won’t be as productive.’”
“Now, the United Egg Producers, a national trade group, says that egg prices would rise by 25 percent if all eggs were produced by uncaged hens, putting stress on consumers and school lunch programs. Animal proponents say that better noncage methods could be developed and that price is not the ultimate issue anyway,” the Times article said.