0717 PROGRESS newsletter - page 3

In the first part of this article I discussed how the cage-free revolution is
gaining momentum throughout the world. In second part I will discuss
some of the options available to South African egg producers.
Economic and infrastructural arguments aside for now, what can we, in South
Africa, learn from the current American and European experience?
Even where existing consumer behaviour seems to be driven by price, the
welfare lobby (with much scientific evidence on their side) can exert a powerful
influence in the market place.
When one influential corporation makes a well-received and media-flaunted
policy change, others will fall in line, in domino fashion.
Corporations can make these changes because it is a simple, relatively
inexpensive matter to write policy changes into the operations of a big business,
shifting the onus of culpability and infrastructure cost away from the purchaser
and on to the producer.
If producers were hoping that retailers would be less easily swayed by
welfare lobbyists than their counterparts in foodservice and processing, it was a
forlorn hope. In the US and the UK, Costco, Target, BJ’s Price Club, Aldi, Ahold
USA, Albertson’s Group, Supervalu, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks and Spencers,
Sainsbury’s and the Delhaize Group have all moved towards sale of cage-free
eggs at the retail level.
Goalposts can move when no one is looking. In the EU, 56 % of birds are
housed in enriched colonies and 44 % are housed in non-cage systems (barns,
aviaries, free-range, organic) (EU Commission). Nevertheless, there is disquiet
amongst many producers that heavy investments made since 1999 in enriched
cage systems may have been wasted as US developments evidence a stampede
towards entirely cage-free production. Producers are concerned that this recent
investment and the industry’s commitment to hen welfare will be overlooked as
the cage-free revolution takes hold.
Dominos are falling in developing countries too. In less welfare-centric
nations, such as Brazil, Mexico and Australia, production processes are under
review because of global supply chains and resident international processors.
In South America, the move by the world’s biggest bakery group, Grupo Bimbo,
to transition to cage-free production took commentators by surprise but two of
South America’s biggest restaurant businesses, Grupo Toks and Alsea, have
since committed to 100 % cage-free eggs by 2022 and 2025, respectively
(WattAgNet). Alsea operate restaurants such as Starbucks, Burger King and
Dominos in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Spain and the
company is the fifth largest restaurant chain in the world (Alsea.net). McDonald’s
India is currently under pressure not to buy battery-produced eggs.
Although good welfare science may point towards enriched cage systems
rather than cage-free systems, consumer perceptions will ultimately determine
what constitutes acceptable welfare conditions.
Social media is changing the speed with which activists can change things.
Consumers’ demands
Given that consumers around the world are demanding to know more, and feel
better about, the origin of their food, how to we proceed here? Eggs from hens
housed in cages are part of a host of issues, including artificial ingredients and
genetically modified crops that are challenging major food brands. Research
shows that consumers do not trust entities that represent the food industry
(such as food companies, restaurants and grocers) but they trust the farmers
themselves. Consumers also confess to knowing little about agriculture but
show a strong desire to learn more. This suggests that individual farmers and
egg companies can take a more proactive role in communicating directly with
consumers to earn credibility and influence long-term buying habits.
Is price the only reason to resists change?
As an industry, we need to examine our long-held stance that conventional cages
are the only option in our economic climate. Failure to do so would be to ignore
global developments completely and risk our industry becoming outmoded;
ultimately reducing export opportunities and shrinking local processing markets.
Yes, cage-free production might increase egg prices, but by exactly how much
under our particular farming conditions? Let’s do the maths properly before
we use this as a reason not to adjust our systems. Is it price which constrains
consumption or other concerns (taboos, cholesterol, welfare, etc.)? Could any
price increases eventually be reversed as the new systems become mainstream
and supported by an inevitable up-tick in relevant research?
Author: Michel Bradford
Product Manager: Poultry
with additional research by: Gail Bradford
Aspublished inPoultryBulletin–April 2017
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