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BU to Take Its Eggs Cage-Free

Student campaign wins change for fall semester

Cage Free Eggs in Boston University Dining Halls, BU Dining Services

Dining Services is switching to all cage-free shell and liquid eggs as of September. Photo by Flickr contributor Jamie H.

Whoever said one man’s actions don’t count hasn’t met Nathan Shin.

Last semester Shin (CAS’12) heard about a student-run campaign sweeping local college campuses that was successfully lobbying administrators to buy only cage-free eggs for their food services. Shin, a vegan member of the Vegetarian Society, did some sleuthing and discovered that Aramark, BU’s food service provider, did not buy exclusively cage-free eggs. He and other club members, including event coordinator Kelseanna Smith (CGS’11, CAS’13) and treasurer Rachel Atcheson (CAS’13), met last semester with Dining Services officials, who were reluctant to push for change without campus-wide student support.

So that’s what Shin set about getting. He and a group of friends collected 1,500 signatures and conducted surveys asking students if the University should serve only cage-free eggs. An overwhelming 97 percent responded yes, regardless of cost.

In early December, Shin and his group presented their results to the Student Union, which voted unanimously in favor of the idea. Administrators agreed shortly thereafter to change BU’s buying practices and instruct suppliers to provide the University with only cage-free shell and liquid eggs.

The experience taught Shin a key lesson: “It’s important for students to know that they can change the school they go to.”

University dining halls have been using cage-free eggs for two years in their a la carte menu for such items as omelets and boiled eggs. But as of next September, all eggs, including liquid eggs and those used for baking, will be cage-free. The switch was announced today on the Dining Services website.

Most egg-laying chickens are raised in tightly packed battery cages with no room to turn around, nest, perch, or dust bathe—all natural instincts for the birds.

“It’s really a nightmare situation, where they’re stacked on top of each other in the dark,” says David Coman-Hidy, director of campaigns for the animal protection nonprofit Humane League. Coman-Hidy helped organize BU’s successful effort and others at Harvard, Brandeis, Emerson, and Lesley Universities.

Cage-free chickens, on the other hand, live in large flocks in barns and can walk around, spread their wings, nest, perch, and dust bathe (instead of using water, chickens clean themselves and get rid of parasites by finding warm, dry, loose material like dirt, sand, or mulch, digging themselves in, then shaking off the dirt and dust). While not allowed to roam outdoors, these chickens have a better life than those raised in battery cages.

Cage Free Chickens, Boston University dining services cage free eggs

Cage-free chickens live in large flocks in barns. Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

Coman-Hidy uses a metaphor to describe the two practices. “Think of battery cages as solitary confinement,” he says, “and cage-free as general population prison.”

What eventually won over BU administrators was the idea of minimizing animal cruelty. “We believe it’s important to make a statement on the more humane treatment of chickens,” says Marc Robillard, executive director of housing and dining.

Robillard estimates that the switch will cost BU an additional $80,000 a year, noting that the increase will not be passed on to students, but will be absorbed in the operating budget. Raising cage-free eggs is a more labor-intensive process, which contributes to higher market costs (a dozen cage-free eggs are nearly double the price of a regular dozen).

Nutritionally, cage-free eggs are no different than those produced by battery cage hens, according to Joan Salge-Blake (SAR’84), a Sargent College clinical associate professor of nutrition. The same is true for organic or free-range eggs. Nutritional value changes only when the quality of chicken feed is altered, as when supplements like vitamin E are added to grain.

With this change, BU joins a larger, nationwide movement supporting more humane treatment of egg-laying chickens. Legislation was recently introduced in Congress that would eliminate battery cages over the next 15 years and replace them with roomier quarters, with amenities like perches and nesting boxes. The bill, endorsed in an editorial column in today’s New York Times, is backed by odd bedfellows—the Humane Society, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, and the United Egg Producers, which represents the U.S. egg industry. Should it pass, the legislation would force better conditions in states that likely would never have considered them (a boon for animal supporters) and prevent a state-by-state legislative battle over cage requirements (a plus for the egg industry).

For his part, Shin says he plans to continue fighting for animal rights after graduation.

“If we actually pride ourselves on being environmentally friendly, I think that the community has to realize what choices they make food-wise,” Shin says. “The food industry is one of the biggest impacts that we have on the environment. If we want to be green, we have to eat green.”

Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Follow Leslie Friday on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

10 Comments on BU to Take Its Eggs Cage-Free

  • Emily on 02.15.2012 at 8:28 am

    SO happy that we’re moving in the right direction! Congrats to the Vegetarian Society for such a big accomplishment!

  • kat on 02.15.2012 at 9:26 am

    Nice work Shin and everyone who participated! :)

  • Iris on 02.15.2012 at 9:52 am

    This is fantastic news on a number of levels! I wholeheartedly support efforts to end animal cruelty–the way we treat our livestock, pets, and animal friends says a lot about us as a society and the value we place on innocent life.

  • mark on 02.15.2012 at 9:58 am

    Great work, Nathan! I hope students will consider putting pressure on Apple and other computer companies that exploit poor factory workers and turn entire communities into dumping grounds for old computers.

  • Iris on 02.15.2012 at 10:04 am

    This is awesome! Great work Nathan and all. I will feel so much better about eating on campus.

  • Chris on 02.15.2012 at 11:45 am

    Definitely a move in the right direction. Contrary to what the article states, I have read that free-range (or pastured) chickens do produce nutritionally superior eggs, as they are able to incorporate worms and bugs into their diet, as opposed to the strictly vegetarian diet that caged and cage-free chickens are fed. (http://www.realfooduniversity.com/truth-isfree-range-eggs-healthier-store-bought-eggs) Chickens are naturally omnivorous, so I eagerly buy up free-range whenver I can. Perhaps that is not realistic for a large-scale opperation in terms of space requirements. Pete & Gerry’s is my commercial egg source of choice.

    • Ben Feder on 10.13.2012 at 10:48 pm

      Definitely right, Chris! I bought Pete and Gerry’s too for a while. They treat their chickens well. Then I switched to only completely pastured from Vital Farms–they sell at Whole Foods.
      The reason is Pete and Gerry’s chickens are still fed grain diets with flaxseed to raise the OMEGA-3’s, which seems good, but as opposed to their natural diets, these are more unstable fats subject to greater rancidity and causes more inflammation than if the chickens ate naturally in the pastures.

  • Brad on 02.15.2012 at 12:29 pm

    This is great, good work everyone!

  • Phil Westwood on 02.16.2012 at 3:13 am

    Great work. This is a good step forward even though the nutritional value of inexpensive cage free eggs is identical to the cage variety – as they can only eat the same. For a real nutritional difference the chickens need regular access to pasture and they need full beaks.

  • Anthony Priestas (Liberty at BU) on 04.02.2012 at 12:57 pm

    Hooray! The statement, “An overwhelming 97 percent responded yes [to cage free], regardless of cost” is telling. The university claims the cost is not passed to students, but that is malarkey. Where in their operating budget did they save $80k? Oh, that’s right, BU’s tuition increase was only 3.9 percent this year. But what do costs matter when the government continues their unfettered loan scam? Universities and students alike enjoy anything when the costs are simply passed to others.

    By the way, that cage free photo doesn’t look better than a more traditional production facility. These hens are dirty, can be injured due to quarrels, and still look very crowded (not to mention extremely inefficient). A better gauge of treatment is to determine whether the hens are in distress. Check out this video from Discovery Channel’s How it’s Made on egg production. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYhEbjhhcAg It’s seems pretty clear the hens are clean, healthy, and are not in any distress.

    Hey, if cost is not an issue, why not just demand that BU use only Free-Range, organic eggs blessed by the Pope (or Jamie Oliver).

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