Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2006 | Features

Hawkeyes Help Free the Birds


A group of student activists lobbied for chicken rights—and University of Iowa administrators listened. 

After months of discourse between animal-welfare groups and food service representatives, the UI hatched a pilot program to boycott battery eggs in favor of eggs laid by free-roaming hens. The semester-long trial of eggs in liquid form in cafeterias at Burge, Hillcrest, and the IMU costs an extra $1,500, but poultry advocates say it's a small price to pay to improve the lives of chickens.

More than 95 percent of the country's eggs come from hens confined to battery cages that leave them unable to turn around, stretch their wings, or lie down. Animal activists say that many birds die of dehydration or asphyxiation. Battery-cage use is considered so brutal that the European Union has passed legislation to phase out the practice by 2012.

Kalona-based Farmer's Hen House, operated by Ryan Miller, 04BA, supplies cage-free eggs to the UI and to Grinnell College. If the pilot program becomes permanent, the UI will be the first major Midwestern university to go cage-free. More than 100 U.S. schools support banning battery eggs at their institutions and are in negotiations with free-range egg suppliers, while others have already made the transition. The UI is likely to buy a significant amount of cage-free eggs but also continue to use some from battery hens.

"It's a momentous step in a positive direction and is certainly worth the miniscule cost difference," says UI Student Government President Mark Kresowik. "It demonstrates our commitment to local farmers, sustainable practices in resource use, and the highest quality food for our students."    

Though lobbyists consider the program a victory for the birds, UI administrators believe a collaborative relationship with student constituencies is an added bonus.

"Student initiatives deserve a respectful hearing and, in this case, a pilot program," says Steve Parrott, 90MA, director of University Relations. "We're committed to the idea of shared governance."