Eggs raised or sold in Oregon and Washington must now be cage free

In this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, cage-free chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm near Waukon, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)AP

Nearly all commercial egg farms in Oregon and Washington must now keep their hens cage free, under laws that went into effect Jan. 1.

The nearly identical laws in both states were passed in 2019 but neither took effect immediately in order to give egg producers time to change their practices.

The laws mandate that commercial farms with 3,000 or more chickens give their birds room to move around and that any egg producers looking to sell within the states also have cage-free birds. Oregon Senate Bill 1019 outlines minimum space for chickens, and requires that they be allowed to “roam unrestricted, other than by external walls” and are “provided with enrichments that allow the hens to exhibit natural behavior, including, at a minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.”

Oregon and Washington join a handful of other states that have passed similar laws. California and Massachusetts already have cage-free laws in place, and more states – Utah, Colorado, Rhode Island, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan – have passed laws that will go into effect in the coming years.

2022 Associated Press report said that the percentage of U.S. hens in cage-free housing rose from 4% in 2010 to 28% in 2020, and “that figure is expected to more than double to about 70% in the next four years.”

When Oregon’s law was passed in 2019, the Humane Society said the move would improve the well-being of some 4 million hens in the state.

“Most hens used in egg production are confined in barren wire cages, and each bird has less space than a single sheet of paper, preventing her from even extending her wings,” the Humane Society wrote. “Chickens are inquisitive, active animals and life inside a cage is one of frustration and deprivation.”

Small farms with fewer than 3,000 hens are exempted from the requirement, and there are other exceptions for things like county fairs, 4-H exhibitions, veterinary care needs and transportation of animals.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture says that to date, no farms have been found out of compliance. Violators could receive penalties of up to $2,500.

Eggs prices, meanwhile, reached a historic high in 2023 for a variety of reasons, including higher costs for feed and fuel and outbreaks of avian flu, but economics say more ethical eggs can mean higher prices.

Shoppers might see both cage-free or free-range labels on their eggs at the grocery store. The difference? Cage-free hens may live entirely indoors while free-range hens have outdoor access.


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