Dr. Dean Cliver writes in this satirical contribution that:
My supermarket charges a 34% premium for "cage-free" eggs, compared to conventional eggs of the same brand, size, and grade. Cage-free eggs, with additional features, get as much as a 124% surcharge. Some say that eggs from cage-free chickens have more flavor because the chickens eat bugs; it would probably be cheaper to raise insects and feed them to layers in conventional cages, although the chicken would be denied the thrill of the chase.
I suspect that most people who pay extra for cage-free eggs would not be able to detect the difference in taste, which suggests that flavor is not what they are really paying for. More likely, the premium is paid out of respect for the hens’ freer lifestyle. If respect for chickens adds value to their eggs, there are certainly further commercial possibilities based on enhancing the life of the chicken.
I suggest that, if laying hens are to be treated with the dignity they deserve, premium egg ranches give every chicken her own name. As each egg was produced, its shell would be imprinted with the donor’s name. In the interest of marketing eggs as fresh as possible, no two eggs in a one-dozen carton would bear the same name; the names might also be embellished with colors and distinctive logos.
Hens typically proclaim their egg production with the characteristic, triumphant cackle — it should be possible to build this into each egg carton (as is now done in greeting cards and other devices), so that the purchaser would hear it each time the carton was opened. Value might be further enhanced by adding some scratch-and-sniff barnyard aroma (bacteria-free, of course), to give the consumer an even greater feeling of being close to Nature.
How much value would be added by these measures could be determined by market research. If the prognosis was sufficiently favorable, there should be little difficulty capitalizing the required egg ranch and processing facility. Hens that "graduated" from such a ranch might also have added gastronomic value, or they might simply be enrolled in an alumnae association for life.
Dr. Cliver officially retired October 1, 2007 and is winding down from 46 years in academia, battling infectious agents in food and water. His research career has led him to see the world as if peering outward through the anal orifice: this "reverse proctoscopy" confers a unique viewpoint.