Egg Industry Animal Welfare Issues and Research Programs in the United States

Date:2013-08-07 19:36:13  From:  Author:


Patricia Y. Hester, Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA
Mailing address of corresponding author:
Patricia Y. Hester
Poultry Science Building
125 S Russell St
West Lafayette, Indiana, USA 47907-2042
The major welfare issue of the USA egg industry is a need for science-based information on the best type of housing to meet welfare needs of White Leghorns. Animal welfare legislation is another issue. Most states in the United States don’t have welfare legislation; however, there are some states with impending statues.  Beginning in 2015, California egg producers must provide housing that allows hens to stand-up, lie down, turn around freely, and fully extend their wings without touching another hen. This vague statue (California Proposition 2) does not identify the type of housing or the space allocation needed to allow hens to perform such behaviors.  Michigan’s statue does not specify housing system but dictates a floor space allocation of 929 cm2/hen by 2019. To avoid disruption in the interstate commerce of eggs, federal legislation is being pursued through an agreement between a national egg cooperative, the United Egg Producers, and an animal activist group, the Humane Society of the United States. This agreement phases out conventional cages, to be replaced by enriched colony housing systems with furnishments and requires 800 cm2 of floor space/White Leghorn hen. However, national legislation is proving to be difficult as other animal industries are opposed to federal welfare legislation for laying hens because of the possibility of establishing precedence, perhaps leading to welfare legislation for other farm animals. Current research in the United States is evaluating 1) the welfare of White Leghorns in aviaries, conventional cages, and enriched cages, 2) the most appropriate stocking density for White Leghorns in enriched cages, and 3) enrichment needs for caged pullets. Furnishments need more research, including perch redesign to prevent keel bone damage, improving the foraging or scratch pad area of enriched cages so that food safety concerns are minimized, and improving dust bathing opportunities in enriched cages.      
Keywords: Egg industry, animal welfare, laying hen, research programs, housing type, enriched cages, United States of America
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