PORTLAND, Maine—Maine may soon join a growing number of states that require cage-free facilities for chickens that lay eggs for commercial consumption, reports the Boston Globe, but industry advocates have concerns about what it would mean for businesses.
Representative Maggie O'Neil has proposed that producers selling eggs in the state follow specific guidelines, including cage-free housing systems that allow chickens to engage in behaviors such as perching and spreading their wings. The guidelines were developed by animal welfare groups and members of the egg industry.
Many consumers, retailers, producers and welfare advocates agree that “the future of the egg industry is cage-free,” O'Neil said. It's “imperative that we act now to establish a reasonable timeline so egg producers can plan for the future of their businesses.”
According to animal welfare advocates, the law change would address cruel conditions at egg operations that cage their birds, preventing them from engaging in “basic behavioral needs,” said Katie Hansberry, Maine senior state director of the Humane Society of the United States.
Bill Bell, general manager of the New England Brown Egg Council, said the proposed law would respond to a growing customer demand.
“As in any business, egg producers must supply what their customers want, and our customers - the retailers, the restaurants and the fast food chains—want ‘cage-free’ eggs,” Bell said.
Senator Jeff Timberlake, a farmer from Turner, has expressed concerns about the retail prices of cage-free eggs, which are double the cost of eggs raised on conventional farms. He added that it would be difficult for Maine’s largest egg producer, Hillandale Farms, to upgrade its facilities for cage-free production.
Jim Buckle, president of the Maine Farm Bureau Association, testified against the bill, saying that state should “let the market choose what they want to eat.”
The proposed bill wouldn’t ban farms in which chickens are caged, but it would prohibit the sale of those eggs in Maine.
Already, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Oregon and Washington have passed cage-free egg laws via legislation or public votes. The Maine proposal will be scheduled for a work session in coming weeks, after which it would face votes before the Maine Legislature.