The egg industry's largest trade association, the United Egg Producers, has teamed up with the Humane Society in seeking federal legislation this year that would double the size of the battery cages in which 90 percent of the nation's 280 million laying hens are confined. And last month, the pork industry's trade magazine noted that public opinion is evolving and "on the issue of gestation-sow stalls, at least, it's increasingly apparent that you will lose the battle."
HSUS has been pushing for more than a decade for large-scale purchasers of animal products to ensure that they are raised humanely. The organization owns stock in 52 companies so that it can attend shareholder meetings and submit proposals for improved animal welfare policy. It also has used undercover operations to show the conditions some food animals endure.
In 2007, Burger King became the first major fast-food chain to incorporate animal welfare into its purchasing policies when it began getting at least some of its pork and eggs from cage-free suppliers.
While some companies responded to consumer demand by incorporating some cage-free eggs into their orders, the landslide passage in 2008 of California's Proposition 2, which will ban chicken cages and gestation crates by 2015, caused buyers and suppliers nationwide to take notice.
Since then, studies have shown that shoppers are willing to pay more for products they believe are produced to higher animal protection standards. Some estimates show raising hens cage-free adds 1 cent to the cost of each egg. It's unclear how much more it will cost to raise pork outside gestation cages.
"Our attitude is our producers believe in consumer choice and, if that's what their consumers want to buy, they'll produce cage-free eggs for the marketplace provided the customer is willing to pay the additional cost," said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers.