Melissa Schwartz is a woman on a mission. The 29-year-old has been persistent in her campaigning to get the CSUN campus dining areas to switch to cage-free eggs.
“Going cage free is important for the well being of the animals, human health and the environment,” said Schwartz, who is currently working towards a master’s degree in software engineering.
She said the majority of egg-laying hens in the U.S. are confined to battery cages that are about the size of a folded newspaper.
“There are about four or five hens per cage, and in such a tight space, these hens are barely able to move – let alone stretch their wings,” Schwartz added.
“This confinement denies them many natural behaviors, it’s stressful, unhealthy and torturous.”
Although the mere absence of cages is not enough to ensure animal welfare, cage-free systems offer hens a significantly improved level of welfare. Hens are able to walk, spread their wings and partake in other natural behaviors, she added.
“We have all of these new ‘go green’ ideas on campus, with all of the recycling and everything that’s going on,” Schwartz said. “I think caged-free gets into the sustainability aspect.”
Schwartz said CSUN has made some progress in “going green” by participating in such programs like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where boxes of produce are delivered on a weekly basis from the Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.
“People are very aware of the impact of depending on imports and going out hundreds of thousands of miles for food when we can be supporting local farms and businesses,” Schwartz said.
Betsy Corrigan, the associate director of campus dining of the University Corporation, said they buy from local farms as much as they can. One of their suppliers of produce is Nature’s Foods, which distributes in Los Angeles.
“Nature’s Foods have a relationship with 120 plus individual farmers that they then source their produce from,” Corrigan said. “Once or twice a year I ask for a list of all the different farmers and then we reach out (to them).”
Despite being the more sustainable choice, buying products from local farms can often be the more expensive one, as well.
Corrigan said not all the food products bought at local farms is reasonably priced. The meat products, for example, are typically from farms from Iowa or the Midwest because of the costs of the local beef and poultry.
“There are a lot of costs associated with buying product that is sourced at a local farm,” Corrigan said. “It’s so much more expensive that it wouldn’t be responsible to say ‘OK this is what you got, sorry this is what we’re going to charge now.’”
Patricia Belt, 25, nutrition major, is another student campaigning for cage-free eggs on campus.
“It’s a waste of fossil fuels and it’s just better for the diversity of the industry to support the smaller local farms,” Belt said. “But even in California we don’t even have that many (farms). I don’t even know if they could support the amount of eggs that the Cal State’s (demand)…but the hope is that these big industries will change.”
Schwartz added that there has to be the demand for cage-free eggs before the farms will start to provide the supplies for it.
“Often times what you have to consider is you have to source the item first because when you’re a big organization it’s not just buying a dozen eggs at a grocery store, it’s making sure you have enough in your facilities and a continued supply,” Corrigan said.
Although many universities have made the switch to cage-free eggs, none of the CSUs have made the commitment yet, Schwartz said.
Belt added that she thinks it would be great if CSUN could lead the way in that change.
“We’re not cage-free right now because there’s a cost involved in that and we pass it on directly to you and I don’t think people are ready for that yet,” Corrigan said.
Sima Sadafi, a liberal studies advisor, said students might have to pay more, but they’ll get more out of it.
Corrigan said she had to ask one of their suppliers to bring in the cage-free eggs so they could have enough of a supply to do a test run.
“We’re going to test the market and we’re going to have breakfast at one of our locations during the course of the rest of the semester,” Corrigan said.
“Sometimes people say yes we’ll do something but as soon as it affects their wallet, they’re not as supportive or conversely they are just as supportive.”
For one week this semester, the cafeterias plan on having cage-free eggs, Corrigan said. A comment card will be provided to everyone who comes to breakfast that week so students can weigh in on their thoughts about paying more for the product. The exact date has not been specified yet.
“We’re very conscientious about where we buy our foods and we use a prime vendor to make sure the foods we purchase are safe, obviously, that’s a number one concern,” Corrigan said.
She said that if there are any recalls, the university corporation is notified immediately. However, Corrigan added there have been no recalls like that.
“I think the only recall we had, was based on something that had the wrong description in the ingredients so it was a mistake,” Corrigan said. “So that was recalled but it wasn’t anything that was like a problem like spinach or anything like that.”
Because safety nets are in place, when there is a problem with a product it doesn’t reach campus, Corrigan said.
“We’re not worried about what we’re serving,” Corrigan added. “We’re serving safe food.”