Infrastructural Hurdles

Fully making the transition, however, will take years and significant financial investment. Birds raised in cages cannot simply be introduced into cage-free environments, because they lack the tools (both psychologically and physically) to cope with the transition and the new dangers it presents. Of the 300 million laying hens in the U.S., only 8% are cage-free; this means that farmers will need to breed an entirely new generation of birds. Moreover, a standard definition of “cage-free” has yet to be established. In California, cage-free means the bird can stand up, turn around, and spread its wings; a big enough cage could technically still meet these requirements.

Farmers also face logistical challenges in the installation of cage-free systems. They have a choice between retro-fitting old barns, or building new ones (which would cost in the ballpark of $4 million). Because of this significant expense, replacing the cage systems could take 15 to 20 years, and will also reintroduce the risks of aggression, animal attack, and disease faced by early egg farmers. Regardless of whether egg suppliers choose to repurpose old barns or build new ones from scratch, these facilities will hold fewer birds and thus produce far fewer eggs, and are therefore inherently less efficient than the old systems. Adjusting for this decrease in production value will pose a major challenge for suppliers and buyers alike.

Supply Chain Infrastructural Hurdles Image

Supply Chain Industry Impacts Image

Industry Impacts

Industry experts and analysts are still not certain who will bear the brunt of these costs as the transition progresses. The initial cost will be shouldered by farmers, but just how those costs will be distributed through the supply chain is unclear. It does seem safe to predict that consumers can expect the prices of eggs (and therefore all egg-based products) to increase, though they will likely level out as farmers develop innovative ways to boost cage-free egg production. While a few eggs may crack on the way to this cage-free omelette, the industry will certainly adjust to meet growing consumer demand.


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