How farmers care for their livestock has become one of the big consumer questions.
Or, at least it seems that way.
Ask a person on the street if they want drug injected beef and the answer is likely to be no.
But when they sit down to a steak or hamburger it is not likely many of us are wondering when they last time the animal the meat came from was injected with a drug.
Ask someone if they think laying hens should be kept in cramped cages and most of us are likely to think that is not the best idea.
Of course crack an egg from a true free range chicken, one with access to grass and weeds to eat, and the consumer sees a dark yellow yolk, they are likely to be concerned too.
There are still many who look at a brown-shelled egg and see it as inferior to a white-shelled one.
It comes down to a case of perception for consumers far more than anything based on verifiable fact.
That is not surprising really.
I have a friend that doesn't eat anything that's purple.
Now is a purple potato actually different than a regular spud?
In his case the answer is immaterial since he has determined purple is not a proper colour for food.
I have also seen people at a family supper quite enjoying the offered dished, until someone at the table mentioned it was rabbit. One of those at the table, having already ate a piece without complaint, refused to eat the second piece on her plate.
We make food choices based on all manner of reasons, and most are simply ones based on how we perceive things.
So something like crowded cages for laying hens becomes an easy target for animal rights groups who can gather consumer support rather easily.
That is not to say there may not be better options than the old-style cages.
In fact, the industry is moving away from such facilities. As an example theEgg Farmers of Alberta have a policy that no new barns will be built using conventional battery cages as of Jan. 1, 2015.
The new systems for layers are being terms 'enriched housing'. Such systems nearly double the room allowed each hen from the old cages, and allows for birds to perch, something which is now seen as a natural thing for chickens to do.
Of course the new barns do raise costs, doubling space alone does that.
So then the question becomes how is that extra investment paid for?
One sure answer is that consumers will not be lining up to willingly pay more for their eggs.
Consumers may be vocal in their desire to see livestock raised in ways to meet their perception of proper, but they are also adamant in their desire for continued cheap food.
The two desires do not work well together, and farmers get stuck in the middle trying to meet both demands.