LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is urging grocery stores statewide to implement clear signage indicating which eggs come from caged chickens ahead of a Michigan law starting in 2025 that will prohibit the sale of eggs from caged hens.

The Department of Attorney General sent a letter to Michigan-based grocer SpartanNash recently emphasizing the importance of transparency in egg sourcing. This initiative aims to help consumers make informed choices following a report from Positive Sum Strategies that highlighted confusion in SpartanNash stores.

The chicken and the egg: understanding the labels.

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According to the Humane Society of the United States, cage-free eggs come from hens that roam freely inside barns, engaging in natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, and perching. These systems offer better living conditions compared to traditional battery cages, which raise public health, environmental, and animal welfare concerns.

“Every consumer deserves to feel confident about the food they put on their dinner table,” Nessel said in her press release. “Confusing or misleading marketing can make it difficult for customers to choose the products that are right for them. By insisting upon clear signage on egg cartons, we can give consumers the power to make informed decisions about how to spend their hard-earned money.”

A scramble for clarity.

In her letter addressed to SpartanNash, Nessel wrote, “I recently reviewed polling data that indicated SpartanNash customers may be confused – in part due to egg carton labeling – about which eggs come from cage-free chickens. Being clear about which eggs are from caged hens is particularly important in Michigan, as Michigan law will prohibit – beginning in 2025 – the sale of eggs from caged hens.”

In March 2023, the Attorney General sent a similar letter to Kroger Co. after polling indicated that customers found the company’s marketing of caged chicken eggs misleading. Both reports highlighted confusion over egg carton sourcing claims and have called for increased transparency and higher standards of animal welfare.

Shell games: The broader implications.

As the 2025 law looms, some question the necessity of Nessel’s efforts. “Posting signage won’t matter for Michigan residents in six months because the state’s cage-free housing law will take effect in January 2025,” argues Meredith Dawson of Watt Poultry, an animal agriculture resource for the global poultry, and feed industries.

She wonders if Nessel anticipates a delay in the law or if this push for clarity will extend to other products, leading to a slippery slope of grocery store signage.

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“At the end of the day, if the consumer really cares how a product is produced, they are going to research it on their own time.” Dawson noted. “I don’t think a sign is needed to tell consumers how an animal was raised. If they care, they already know.”

Dawson added, “I can’t imagine there being signage in the grocery store explaining how the chicken in chicken noodle soup cans was housed, or how a type of cheese was manufactured and how the cow that helped was raised. It could be a slippery slope.”

Cracking open consumer behavior.

Caged and cage-free signage in grocery stores is a growing topic of conversation and has been for a while with animal rights groups like Animal Justice pushing for such signage to influence consumer purchasing decisions. Additionally, a study by Dollar Tree in 2023 found positive outcomes from using signage to identify cage-free eggs in its stores, leading to an expansion of a pilot program.

The legal lay of the land and the current egg-sistential debate.

As the cage-free law approaches and Michigan prepares for its cage-free future, the debate over signage will most likely continue. While some argue that current labels suffice, others believe that more transparency is needed to protect consumers. Ultimately, the push for clearer egg labeling highlights a broader discussion about consumer rights and animal welfare.

As Dr. Michael Appleby, a leading poultry welfare expert, notes, “Battery cages present inherent animal welfare problems, most notably by their small size and barren conditions. Hens are unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors and endure high levels of stress and frustration. Cage-free egg production, while not perfect, does not entail such inherent animal welfare disadvantages and is a very good step in the right direction for the egg industry.”