A move by a Calgary grocer to put an end to the sale of certain chicken and pork products is being applauded by animal activists across the country, but industry players have warned that going cage-free is not without its challenges.
Calgary Co-op members voted Wednesday night to phase out the selling of egg and pork products produced in confinement cages, which are generally seen as inhumane due to their cramped conditions and lack of fresh air and sunlight.
Instead, members would like the store to carry primarily free-range products where the animals have access to outdoor space, including nesting boxes and perches for hens.
The motion, however, will likely lead to product shortages, warn Alberta farmer groups. According to Alberta Pork executive Darcy Fitzgerald, the vast majority of eggs and pork produced in North America come from confinement cages.
“Our biggest fear would be the product would have to start coming in from offshore,” Fitzgerald told the Calgary Herald.
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Fitzgerald said the edict comes at a price to farmers who will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade barns and facilities.
“Then there are different management skills involved, retraining, more workers required,” he said. “There is fighting and bullying (between the animals) that you didn’t have to deal with before. And there are safety issues now for the farmer as well — he’s in a big pen with a whole bunch of animals. So it’s all of those things, it’s not just that we have to make some construction changes.”
Susan Gal with the Egg Farmers of Alberta, said retailers need to consider not only the cost to producers, but also the amount of time it takes to accommodate such changes.
"Some will require bigger barns, so it's not just a simple matter of ripping out the existing, you've actually got to rebuild the whole barn and in this province there are rules and regulations that we need to follow," she told CBC Calgary. "It takes a lot of time to get permits."
Others believe the motion opens the door for businesses to make choices on behalf of consumers and producers.
Egg Farmers of Alberta spokesman David Webb told CBC Calgary "passing this motion would set a bad precedent by effectively taking the right to choose away from consumers and farmers."
According to the Herald, the industry is gradually moving away from confinement cages. In 2006, 98.5 per cent of Alberta eggs were produced in battery cages. Last year taht number dropped to 85.5 per cent.
Public support for the motion, however, has been overwhelmingly positive, with many congratulating Co-op and its members for the historic move.
“If I lived in Calgary I would DEFINITELY do all my grocery shopping at this fantastic Co-Op! You guys are amazing! So wise and compassionate. I hope to see this right across Canada,” HuffPost commenter nightinggale wrote.
"I used to do all my shopping at Co-Op, but in the last few years not so much. If they are willing to take a stance on animal welfare issues, though, I will be back," said Lori Hahnel on Facebook.