The latest version of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets and Laying Hens was released last week to the praise of some in the industry and the chagrin of an animal welfare group.
Among many other requirements and recommendations, the new code mandates phasing out conventional cages, which typically hold four to eight hens, and moving to enriched or loose housing over time.
The code says the Canadian egg industry has committed to having at least 85 percent of hens in alternative housing within 15 years, and it is expected that 50 percent will be in such housing within eight years.
The animal rights group Mercy for Animals criticized the code for allowing producers to continue using cages for years to come.
“Confining hens in cages is one of the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse in existence,” said the group.
“Responding to caring consumers, nearly every major Canadian food company, including Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Loblaw, Metro, Sobeys, and Walmart, has recently pledged to switch to cage-free eggs.”
Many companies on that list have allowed a phase-in period, by which time they will then buy eggs only from cage-free operations.
Susan Schafers, chair of Egg Farmers of Alberta and a member of Egg Farmers of Canada, said the code’s allowances for moving egg operations to alternative housing from cages are important.
“We signed up to be egg farmers and our job is to supply our local markets, around home and across the country, and for us, we want to make sure that the transition is done in an orderly way,” she said.