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Our View: Cage-free chickens law egg-xactly right

But consumers will feel steep price increase

You know the saying, can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. As in, it’s not possible to achieve something worthwhile without adverse effects or sacrifices elsewhere. We’re talking about the new state law requiring all eggs sold in Colorado’s groceries be cage-free that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The law will mean better, healthier ways to produce eggs and treat chickens. With chickens able to live more naturally, eggs can only be more nutritious and delicious. Passing House Bill 20-1343 in 2020, which requires cage-free housing with specific enclosure measurements, was the right thing to do.

Yet, we can’t ignore the steep price increase of $1 to $2 per dozen. (Ouch!) Add this to City Market’s Kroger brand large Grade AA eggs, which cost $3.99 this week. Eggs may move out of that inexpensive-food category that includes ramen noodles and potatoes and beans, and, for decades, sustained college students and families on budgets. Shoppers will feel this at the cash register in addition to other products pricier because of inflation. Eggs are an essential ingredient. And people with low incomes rely on them.

The law, which applies to farms with more than 3,000 chickens, allows a grace period with the regulatory agency giving grocery stores and other businesses time to upgrade supply chains to be fully compliant. Read, no fines yet.

Producers get a break, too, and will have until Jan. 1, 2025, to produce only cage-free eggs, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Colorado’s livestock industry is mixed on the law. The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union supports the move. In The Denver Post, Montrose farmer Scott Scarborough said, “it’s a good thing to keep (chickens) out of the cage.”

On the other side of the chicken wire, the Colorado Farm Bureau opposes the mandated timeline, as there’s “no flexibility for farmers to implement new housing when it worked best for their business,” said Austin Vincent, general counsel and director of state affairs.

Laura Strange of the National Grocers Association called the transition to a 100% cage-free egg supply “a complex decision that has implications for food costs, supply chain logistics and even animal welfare.”

Egg-xactly. The situation around the simple, elegant egg is multifaceted.

Colorado isn’t new to mandate cage-free eggs. It mirrors laws passed by 14 other states to phase out the most extreme forms of confinement. The practice of battery cage systems is barbaric and in opposition to how hens want to live – freely!

Chickens will now have scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and – our favorite behavior – they’ll dust bathe. In other words, they’ll act more like chickens. Like their cousins in backyards and on farms and ranches around the Southwest.

We’re confident in saying creatures most in favor of this law are chickens. They’re probably doing a lot of celebratory dust bathing.

In all seriousness, consumers have been driving this action toward cage-free eggs. They’ve shown that they’ll pay more for eggs that No. 1, taste better; and No. 2, don’t come from cheap inhumane setups, where birds can’t move much. Jessica Trowbridge, King Soopers spokesperson, said stores under the Kroger umbrella already offer “affordable cage-free eggs” through Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic – priced at $5.49.

There’s no denying Colorado egg farmers must undergo more red tape. The process includes an inspection to receive a certificate from the state’s Agriculture Department that confirms they’re cage-free compliant. The certificates must be renewed annually and cartons must be labeled “CO-COM.”

The law may even elevate chickens’ lives in other unintended ways. Is your child asking for a new pet? Want a roommate that actually produces something?

Maybe even condo associations will come to allow chickens. Nah, unlikely. Scratch that.