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Cage-free egg mandate would be bad for chickens, workers and consumers

The cage-free egg bill, Senate Bill 347, currently being considered by the New Mexico Legislature is not just bad for consumers who rely on this affordable protein source, it’s also bad for chickens.

When a similar proposal was passed in California, voters were promised that egg prices would rise by pennies. But now those consumers are paying 90% more per dozen eggs than the rest of the nation. Why? Because cage-free chickens are more expensive to maintain. Cage-free is not the same as free-range. Cage-free chickens are raised in large barns and are more susceptible to disease from contact with other chickens. Additionally, chickens become victims of “pecking order,” a natural behavior that establishes dominance and endangers weaker chickens. Modern systems protect chickens from disease and each other.

Current egg production practices also protect consumers. Studies have shown that Salmonella is less prevalent in conventionally produced eggs. Eggs laid on the ground, rather than in cages, also have a greater likelihood for bacterial contamination from surface manure.

Worker health is also safeguarded through conventional production practices, since cage-free chickens are still confined in large barns and their pecking and scratching creates dust levels eight times greater than in modern systems. A common concern for workers is exposure to increased endotoxin dust levels and reduced lung function.

Consumers currently have a multitude of egg-buying options in our state. Based on your personal preference, you can choose cage-free, free-range or conventional eggs. But to mandate that all families must buy cage-free is to make eggs more expensive, compromises food safety and threatens worker health. This bill is wrong for New Mexico’s families.

The New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau represents more than 20,000 member families across the state.

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