Animal welfare concerns have gone overboard, according to many agriculture professionals, and the consequences are eggs reaching $6 a dozen at California stores, with higher prices possibly spreading east. A new law in California not only requires larger coops – so chickens can turn around and spread their wings – but also that any farm selling eggs in California must comply with California law.
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“It’s not that Illinois has a lot of farmers, but we do have upwards of probably 7-8 million laying hens, compared to a state like Iowa, which has 50-55 million layers,” says the University of Illinois’ Chet Utterback. “But it is very significant, and it is significant to farmers in this state who do ship their products to other states. And I don’t believe that the state of California has the right to tell other states how to raise their eggs, especially when they have no scientific research to say that ‘colony-enriched’ housing is better.”
Utterback says by animal welfare standards, it’s not better, just different. He manages the poultry research farm at the university, where he has worked since 1986.
Utterback says the chicken has neither the brains nor ambition to know it would even want to move around more freely. Besides, he says, being cooped up is for the chickens’ own good, keeping them safe from the weather, from predators, and, for example, from eating their own manure and possibly becoming sick.
Nevertheless, the effect is that farmers are scrambling to build bigger coops.