April 23, 2019 | 67° F

U. groups hold referendum for cage-free eggs

Photo by Smaranda Tolosano |

Battery cages cause stress, starvation and dehydration in hens, increasing fatalities.

Hens need a sanitary and environmentally sound location to produce eggs — but battery cages cause stress and dehydration, which do nothing but increase hen fatalities.

Rutgers United for the Welfare of Animals and the Rutgers University Vegetarian Society proposed a Cage-Free Egg Referendum to University students.

The organizations ran a referendum in 2011 where students filled out surveys agreeing to pay an extra $7.50 for their meal plans, said Katherine Schwartzer, founder and president of Rutgers University Vegetarian Society.

But the survey’s claim that each person would have to pay $7.50 does not apply to every meal plan, and therefore the Board of Governors deemed the referendum invalid, she said.

But this year the glitch has been fixed, and the organizations will average the amount of students who are willing to pay extra and present the statistic to the Board of Governors later this semester, said Constance Li, a member of Rutgers United for the Welfare of Animals.

“They are reluctant to increase the budget in any way that is disagreeable with the students,” she said. “This referendum will provide an answer to how much student interest there is in cage-free eggs and make sure that the budget increase would not be above what students are willing to pay.”

Li said cage-free eggs come from birds raised in an open barn, as opposed to the battery cage farms where hens are confined to an uncomfortably small space and cannot spread their wings.

Battery cages are normally piled four to five cages high, causing waste from the birds above to fall on the birds below, said Li, a University alumna. Approximately 12 to 18 percent of hens die in battery cages every year due to severe stress, starvation and dehydration.

Voting took place yesterday at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus, she said. The Busch Dining Hall will hold voting today and Neilson Dining Hall and Livingston Dining Hall will hold voting tomorrow.

The U.S. Center for Food Safety issued a statement supporting a ban of battery cages because overcrowding and unsanitary conditions increases the risk of Salmonella and other diseases, she said.

“Much higher concentrations of ammonia and other waste products are released into the air,” Li said. “Environmental organizations like the Sierra Club support cage-free eggs because the consequences of farming are much less intense and thus more environmentally sustainable.”

Currently, the University spends $250,000 on eggs for dining services every year, Li said.

“By making the switch to cage-free eggs, Rutgers can redirect this money to up and coming cage-free systems and make a huge economic impact on the egg industry,” she said. “And of course, the students will be at the heart of this change.”

Schwartzer believes University students should know where their food is coming from.

“If a large university, like Rutgers, changes to cage-free eggs, it will send a message to the factory farms that people demand change in the way they treat animals,” she said.

Harvard University, Boston University, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Northeastern University and others have made the switch, said Schwartzer, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior.

Melanie Bowe, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore, said cage-free eggs are a step in the right direction for the University.

“I feel guilty every time I eat. I don’t even want to get started on takeout and those chicken nuggets,” she said. “In my opinion going organic is the healthiest way because many food products contain a stamp that clarifies it is ‘organic certified.’”

But as a nutritional science major, Bowe learned that the switch is costly, and marketers often mislabel their products as organic to raise prices.

“There is no [Food and Drug Administration] regulation that sets the standards of a ‘free-range’ egg,” she said. “So factory farms can claim to be ‘free-range’ and mark up their egg prices but could let their chickens roam free for which ever length of time they desire.”

Massimo Gioffre, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, is willing to pay more for cage-free eggs at the University.

“Battery cage eggs present animal welfare problems. The hens are deprived of their natural behaviors as opposed to cage-free hens,” he said. “Even though cage-free and battery cage hens both share the same cruelty practices at least cage-free hens can live accordingly to their natural behaviors.”

By Kiana Dunn

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