Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) announced last week the beginning of a coordinated, systematic, market-oriented transition from conventional egg production toward other methods of production for supplying eggs. According to the organization, the collective approach will take hen welfare, human health, other resource implications, environmental impact and food production sustainability all into account.
"In response to the best-available scientific research and in light of changing consumer preferences, I'm pleased that the entire industry has agreed to an orderly transition plan that will further diversify our production practices," EFC chairman Peter Clarke said. "We see immense potential to leverage research and innovation to achieve the best possible outcomes across all factors of sustainable food production, which includes everything from environmental impacts to food affordability."
The organization said the shift will yield almost 50% restructuring in as soon as eight years and includes a commitment to cease installation of any new conventional housing. Presently, about 90% of Canadian egg production is in conventional housing. The other 10% or so is in enriched, free-run, aviary or free-range housing.
Under the plan, to be overseen by a national working group and in collaboration with the entire egg supply chain, the industry expects to achieve about a 50/50 mix in eight years and about 85% alternative production in 15 years. All production would be in enriched, free-run, aviary or free-range housing by 2036, assuming that current market conditions prevail, the organization said.
“Because the market, affordability for consumers, pullet rearing and other supply chain aspects, resource implications and a number of construction and equipment realities all must be factored in, these projections represent a realistic forecast of what is achievable,” EFC stated. “The steady, coordinated and cross-supply chain approach will be executed with the utmost respect for ensuring supply — both that there are no supply shortages and that there is no production of eggs for which there is no market — while pursuing production diversification.”
Alongside this announcement, the industry said it also hopes to discuss with stakeholders and consumers the benefits of enriched housing, which do not seem to be well or widely understood outside of the industry. These include food safety, the minimization of mortality, cannibalism and other aggressive behaviors (hens flock together and enjoy small groups), ensuring adequate feed and water for all (hens have a pecking order), human health and the lowest possible environmental impacts.
"Egg Farmers of Canada is proud to represent egg farmers across all systems and to offer consumers choice when it comes to eggs," Clarke said. "We are about to take our already high-performing industry and best practices in production to even higher levels."
EFC said it has reviewed the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply's four-year, commercial-scale study of the sustainability of three different types of hen housing: conventional, aviary and enriched.
“The study, widely supported by a range of stakeholders, illustrates the complexity involved in evaluating different production methods. For example, it showed that while one production type might have an even higher impact on hen welfare, it also has impacts in terms of human health, the environment and the economy of the sector that must be considered,” EFC noted.
Clarke said EFC is committed to research regarding both production practices and consumer preferences and to ensuring evidence-based decision-making when it comes to industry practices.