[Cage-free] eggs can cost an extra 60 cents a dozen on the wholesale market. But most chicken farmers are not ripping out cages and retrofitting their barns. They question whether the birds are really better off, saying that keeping thousands of hens in tight quarters on the floor of a building can lead to hunger, disease and cannibalism.
— “Suddenly, the Hunt Is On for Cage-Free Eggs, NY Times, 12 August 2007
The NY Times, of all publications, had an article yesterday on the fad of cage-free eggs, but really, all it takes is the one accompanying picture to tell the story.
The eggs, from chickens raised in large, open barns instead of stacks of small wire cages, have become the latest addition to menus at universities, hotel chains like Omni and cafeterias at companies like Google. The Whole Foods supermarket chain sells nothing else, and even Burger King is getting in on the trend.
All that demand has meant a rush on cage-free eggs and headaches in corporate kitchens as big buyers learn there may not be enough to go around.
Burger King is switching to cage-free eggs but expects only 5 percent to be by the end of this year. Ben & Jerry’s announced their switch earlier this year but said it will take 4 years. Then there’s Wolfgang Puck, operator of a large and growing chain of high-profile restaurants.
This year, the Humane Society convinced the chef Wolfgang Puck that cage-free chickens make better-tasting eggs. Although the look and taste of an egg are most affected by its age and the chicken’s diet, many chefs believe that cage-free eggs are of higher quality. But not all cage-free eggs are equal.
But the Times sang a very different tune in a 26 March editorial.
From time to time, consumers are reminded of the power they have, and the power of the choices they make. There is no better example than the rising popularity of organic food — a matter of conscience and of taste. More and more people are buying local, organic produce and trying to find meat and eggs and dairy products from farms that are not part of the horror of factory farming.
Not surprisingly, people who shop that way also like to dine out that way. That will now be easier thanks to Wolfgang Puck, the universal restaurateur. He has decided that his culinary businesses will now use products only from animals raised under strict humane standards.
I accused them of “gullibility or extreme guile” in a blog entry at the time, and I’m still uncertain which of those faults they’re guilty of here. The meat and dairy industries, either directly or, particularly though supermarket advertising, indirectly, are essential to the Times’s profitability. Yet they want to come off as hip and humane. The current article lets them have it both ways, seeming to be supportive and yet skeptical of increased consumer awareness of the appalling conditions in which animals are manufactured for food.
Instead, the newspaper of record could simply support genuinely humane treatment of animals and accept nothing less in its editorials and advertisements. But that would be taking the bread out of its own corporate maw.