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Animal rights activists rail against 20-year battery cage deadline

A Light Sussex chicken is seen in Langley, B.C., on Monday December 15, 2014.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Animal rights groups are slamming the deadline provided by egg farmers to transition away from battery cages, calling it "outrageous" to take 20 years to make the switch.

The Egg Farmers of Canada, which represents about 90 per cent of producers in this country, announced Friday that its members will stop using the controversial egg production method known as "battery cages" by 2036.

Battery cages have long been criticized for providing hens with little room in which to move around or exhibit natural behaviours such as perching or nesting.

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"While the [Canadian Federation of Humane Societies] sees value in a moratorium on construction of new barren battery cages, we do not support EFC's proposed 20-year phase out of these systems, which is nearly twice as long as the 12 years provided in the European Union for the same transition and significantly greater than the public demands," the CFHS said in a statement.

The animal-rights activist group Mercy For Animals, meanwhile, accused farmers of dragging their feet on the issue.

"While it's commendable that Egg Farmers of Canada has finally acknowledged that packing animals into cruel cages is both unnecessary and socially unacceptable, its suggested deadline for going cage-free is simply outrageous."

Despite the MFA statement, the Egg Farmers' announcement Friday did not represent a commitment by the entire industry to go cage-free.

Instead, the EFC has only pledged to do away with battery cages – leaving as an option "furnished" cages, which give the hens almost twice as much space as the 67-square-inches-per-bird in battery cages, and provide perches and separate nest boxes. The approximately 1,000 farmers who are represented by the EFC can also choose to move to cage-free systems.

Still, egg farmers say 20 years is necessary for a smooth transition.

"You can't just turn the light switch on and off," said Roger Pelissero, a third-generation Niagara-area egg farmer. He switched from battery cages to a furnished system in 2013, at a cost of almost $2-million, including the price of building a new, bigger barn. In his case, he said it would take 20 years to pay off his investment.

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"We have producers that built [battery cage] facilities two years ago," he said. "From that aspect, you make an investment for 20 years. It's not like I can just take this infrastructure out and switch over to something else."

In the statement from Egg Farmers of Canada on Friday, the group called 20 years "a realistic forecast of what is achievable." The statement cited also other factors, including ensuring a steady supply of eggs on the market, construction time, and access to equipment.

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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