January 3, 2006
UI will buy cage-free eggs
Pilot program will use eggs from hens not kept in cages
By Gregg Hennigan
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The University of Iowa will implement a pilot program that uses eggs from hens that are not caged -- so-called cage-free eggs -- in some of its dining facilities.

Details are still being finalized, but UI plans to use the eggs in the upcoming semester at the Iowa Memorial Union and its operations throughout campus and Burge and Hillcrest residence halls, said Barry Greenberg, associate manager of IMU Food Service.

The pilot program was approved by the university administration in late December, university spokesman Steve Parrott said. He added that a vendor and pricing must still be established, with final decisions coming by the end of the spring semester.

The program comes a half-year after several university and student organizations began pressuring UI to make the switch.

In letters to university administrators, the groups maintained that battery eggs, or those from caged hens, constitute animal cruelty. Under the process, large numbers of hens are kept in cages with little or no room to spread their wings or lie down.

"At a progressive school like UI, we'd want them to also send a message that they're going to support better business practices," said Alyson Powers, a member of a UI group called the Farm Animal Welfare Network and an academic adviser for the Division of Interdisciplinary Programs.

She described herself as "ecstatic" over UI's decision to try the pilot program.

"I think they'll find that the university students, faculty and staff support their decision and that it will become permanent," she said.

The pilot program will last a semester and be evaluated when it ends, Greenberg said.

"We're moving forward and we'll be purchasing in the near future, hopefully by the beginning of this upcoming semester," he said.

Parrott said where UI will buy the eggs is still undecided. Depending on the size of the contract, the Iowa state Board of Regents may have to open it to bids.

Details such as the number of eggs UI will need and the cost are still being gathered, Parrott said.

UI has talked with Kalona-based Farmer's Hen House about providing cage-free eggs and Greenberg has toured their operations, said Ryan Miller, whose family runs the company.

The farm works with 35 to 40 family farmers from the Kalona area, most of them Amish, who allow their hens to roam free rather than be confined in cages, said Miller, a 26-year-old UI graduate student in school counseling. Its eggs are carried by Hy-Vee Food Stores, Cub Foods and New Pioneer Co-op and Fresh Food Market.

Miller said cage-free eggs are more expensive than battery eggs by 90 cents to $1 per dozen.

More than 70 schools across the country have eliminated or are phasing out their use of battery eggs, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Grinnell College is the only Iowa school the group has identified as having done so. No Big Ten Conference schools are listed.