Seeking out “humanely” produced eggs used to take significant extra time and money, and the ability to buy from a farmer or specialty retailer. It was conventional wisdom that confining hens to packed battery cages was the only way major retailers could get the quantities of eggs they needed at prices the public would pay.
This week, though, Safeway, the country’s second-largest grocery chain, became the first major national retailer to require all its organic and cage-free egg producers be “Certified Humane.” (Eggs that aren’t labeled cage-free or organic aren’t included in the requirement.)
The non-profit Humane Farm Animal Care organization requires inspections and specific steps to gain the “Certified Humane” label — laying hens, for instance, can’t be caged, and must be able “without difficulty, to stand normally, turn around, and stretch their wings have room to flap their wings.” Minimal beak trimming is allowed on chicks, but debeaking is not permitted.
Safeway first pledged back in 2008 to look hard for ways to increase its stock of cage-free eggs, said spokesman Brian Dowling.
“We’ve consciously made a decision as a company that this is a place where we’re going to take a leadership role,” he said. The company took on the issue of keeping pigs crated in gestation stalls earlier this year, and has been “pretty aggressive” on finding egg producers willing to meet the egg standards.
“It’s still a challenge, given the quantities of eggs we sell in our store… If we said tomorrow we’re going completely cage-free, we couldn’t do it, we’d be going out of the egg business,” he said. But the certification for organic and cage-free varieties is still a landmark.
Here’s a list of all “Certified Humane” producers. In addition to Safeway’s Lucerne and O-Organic brand cage-free and organic eggs, local producers Stiebrs Farms and Wilcox Family Farms also carry the label. And, of course, producers might go with other certifiers, or have standards that meet or exceed Certified Humane requirements, and just not have applied for certification — Skagit River Ranch’s laying hens, for instance, have a downright bucolic life. But the label does tell you, when you’re pushing a shopping cart and want more information, the minimum standards under which those eggs were produced.
Dowling wasn’t immediately sure how “Certified Humane” requirements affected the price of eggs. Online at Safeway today, a dozen cage-free eggs cost 30 cents more than the same brand’s non cage-free eggs, though that includes a 50 cent discount for Safeway cardholders. It’s hard to tease out “cage-free” from other guarantees like “organic” and “vegetarian-fed” or “added Omega-3s”, but cage-free eggs cost 40 cents more per dozen on the closest comparison I see on Amazon Fresh.
Is it worth it to you?
Photo of one sort of hen house permitted under the Certified Humane label courtesy of Humane Farm Animal Care.