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let's talk farm animals

Even experts can inflate the facts

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

A recent news item in the Vancouver press illustrates why we need to be critical of what we read, regardless of who it comes from. This particular news story highlighted the growing demand for animal welfare certified foods in B.C. To her credit the journalist went to a noted expert rather than a vested marketer to write her story. In this case she cites UBC professor of applied ethics and long-time welfare researcher David Fraser.  According to her reporting, the animal welfare expert says the move (to certified humane) is part of a larger consumer trend of rejecting products from factory farms.

To support his claim Dr. Fraser is quoted as saying about 15 to 20 per cent of eggs sold in BC are currently produced by cage-free farms.  “The research suggests the demand [in BC] is actually higher than that, and the industry hasn’t really ramped up its cage-free production to meet the actual demand,” he added.

Fraser said B.C. still lag behind places like the UK, where the market for cage-free eggs stands at 50 per cent or higher. “I think over the past 50 years we’ve seen a tremendous increase in public interest in animal welfare, and that’s just been captured by corporations as something that’s important for their clients.”

Knowing something about the Canadian egg market and consumer research, I immediately questioned the 15-20% figure Dr. Fraser cited and the suggestion that demand exceeds available supply.

Sure enough, my suspicions were valid. According to Nielsen sales data, 20% of eggs sold in BC are Specialty Eggs. Of those 11% are Omega-3 eggs (which are produced by hens fed supplemental Omega-3 and generally produced in caged systems) and 9% fall into the All Other Specialty Egg category which includes Organic, Free-Range, Free-Run, Fertilized, etc.

While use of laying cages is not permitted in order to be Certified Organic, not all organic eggs are certified. The same would apply to eggs labeled Natural, which has no uniform production standards.  So it is quite likely that even the 9% Neilsen figure overstates the actual percentage of eggs that come from non-cage egg barns. Neilsen sales figures only capture retail sales so do not include direct farm-gate sales. But even so, farm gate sales would include eggs produced from all types of housing systems. Even factoring in non-cage eggs sold at the farm gate, it is difficult to believe that those sales would make up the difference to reach Dr. Fraser’s 15-20 percent figure.

Dr. Fraser’s assertion that BC egg producers haven’t ramped up production to meet demand seems questionable as well. While there are plenty of practical and financial reasons behind any farmer’s decisions in his or her farming choices, if the demand is there- at the right price of course, and there are no barriers to production, it will be met by someone. In other words, if the market demand for any product, but in this case cage-free eggs, truly exists the laws of supply and demand will fill the need. It shouldn’t require overstatements by marketers or experts to create illusions of a demand that doesn’t exist.

Until the Next Blog




Posted by OFAC on August 22nd, 2011 :: Filed under Consumers,eggs,Food,Media,Organics
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