Colorado is going with the more expensive, cage-free eggs, limiting the options on its menu for producers.

A bill signed July 1 by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis sets a 2025 deadline to convert all hen-housing in the state to cage free by 2025.  It means Colorado will be joining the likes of California, Oregon, and Washington in the West, and Rhode Island and Michigan back East by dictating the sale of only cage-free eggs.

And unlike some states, Colorado imposed the changes on producers with a legislative act, not a public ballot measure. Western Colorado Democrats, state Sen. Kerry Donovan and state Rep.Dylan Roberts were sponsors of HB20-1343, the cage-free bill.

It moved quickly during June, passing the House 48-16 and the Senate, 19-16.

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Colorado has more than 250 egg-producing farm families. Colorado eggs are distributed in the state and Arizona, California, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Utah, and Wyoming. Colorado hens are very productive producing 291 eggs per hen for a total of 1.3 billion eggs annually, ranking Colorado 23rd in the nation in egg production.  Colorado’s gross income from egg production tops $100 million per year.

The bill requires a farm owner or operator to house chicken, turkey, duck, goose, or guinea fowl hens in accordance with the standards established in the bill. And the bill prohibits, on and after January 1, 2023, a business owner or operator from selling shell eggs or egg products that are produced by egg-laying hens that were confined in a manner that conflicts with the new standards. In connection with this prohibition, the bill: Requires, by Jan. 1, 2023, hens to be confined in an enclosure with at least one square foot of usable floor space per hen; and requires, by Jan. 1, 2025, hens to be confined in a cage-free housing system with at least:

  • One square foot of usable floor space per hen if the hens have unfettered access to vertical space; or
  • One and one-half square feet of usable floor space per hen if the hens do not have unfettered access to vertical space;
  • Deems a sale to have occurred at the location where the buyer takes physical possession of the shell egg or egg product;
  • Allows a business to rely upon written certification that the shell eggs or egg products did not come from hens that were confined in a manner that conflicts with the bill;
  • Authorizes the commissioner of agriculture to impose a civil penalty up to $1,000 per violation;
  • Makes the commissioner responsible for promulgating rules to implement and enforce the bill; and
  • Authorizes the commissioner to use a government or private inspection process.

The bill requires shell eggs and egg products to be annually certified as in compliance. Certification requires an inspection.

The following are exempt from the bill’s requirements:

  • Medical research;
  • Veterinary purposes;
  • Transportation;
  • A state or county fair exhibition, a 4-H program, and similar exhibitions;
  • Slaughter;
  • Temporary periods for animal husbandry;
  • A farm with 3,000 or fewer egg-laying hens; or
  • A nonfarm business owner or operator with each location selling fewer than 25 cases of shell eggs per week if all locations owned or operated by the business sell fewer than 100 cases of shell eggs per week.

Cage-free egg legislation has forced farmers to create new housing facilities including scratching areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust-bathing areas.

 These cage-free housing systems also incorporate adequate lighting and ventilation. 

Meanwhile, the majority of consumers show a preference for the cheapest egg available, which is typically a standard conventional egg. According to Nielsen, cage-free eggs account for just 10 percent of all shell eggs sold in stores.

Egg producers estimate it will cost them about $30 per bird, totaling about $165 million for the industry in Colorado. Once the bill is fully phased in, about six million hens will be living cage-free. The law will also require that eggs sold in the state be from cage-free systems.

Data from Egg Industry’s Top Egg Company Survey, a part of WATT Global Media, reported that the top 20 U.S. egg companies for 2020 account for 254.55 million birds. Hickman’s Family Farms has a total flock of 5.60 million hens. These hens are located in Arizona and Colorado, with distribution operations in Iowa, Nevada, and California.

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