Health Care Groups Go for Cage-Free Food Ops

SAN FRANCISCO — In an effort to practice social responsibility, a team of San Francisco Bay Area hospitals recently secured a contract for certified-humane, cage-free eggs from Wilcox Farms through U.S. Foodservice, a major food distributors serving the health care sector.

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center and John Muir Health are now purchasing 100 percent of their liquid eggs from Wilcox Farms — eggs that are pre-separated from their shells and constitute the majority of hospital egg purchases.

Jack Henderson, associate director of UCSF’s Nutrition and Food Services, said the contract is part of the university’s larger goal of sustainable purchasing.

“At UCSF Medical Center, we use over 66,000 pounds of liquid eggs annually,” he said. “As a result of switching from conventionally-raised eggs to cage free-eggs, UCSF is saving over 2,000 chickens from living in battery cages every year.”

The two health care groups signed a “Healthy Good in Health Care” pledge, organized by the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit educational organization that has established a health care leadership team.

The team allows hospitals to share knowledge and pool their purchasing power in order to shift the marketplace toward healthier, sustainably-produced food.

The pledge states that healthy food must come from a food system that is economically viable, ecologically sustainable and socially just.

The San Francisco VA Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente, also members of the physicians group, plan to transition to liquid cage-free eggs this spring as well.

"We are very pleased that UCSF Medical Center and John Muir Health are leading the sustainability effort by providing their patients and visitors with humanely raised, cage-free eggs and we hope that more hospitals will follow their lead," said Lucia Sayre, co-director of the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The contract with is “a significant decision, making cage-free eggs more accessible to other hospitals in California and the Pacific Northwest,” according to the group.

Wilcox Farms is a fourth generation family farm in Washington State that has committed to converting their operation to 100 percent organic and cage-free in response to growing demand, along with the company’s desire to sustain the land, community and company for the future.

The cage-free hens are free to run and preen with access to the outdoors and are certified humane by Humane Farm Animal Care, a national nonprofit group working to enforce standards to ensure humane treatment of farm animals.

"In 2006 our family made the decision to convert our hen houses from conventional to cage free and organic. Although we knew it was the right thing to do, it has not always been easy — the process has been extremely intense both with financial and management resources,” said co-owner Andy Wilcox. “So when customers like UCSF and John Muir Health choose our products, it validates our decision to transition to cage-free and organic.”

The vast majority of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined in battery cages, according to the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“On average, each caged hen is afforded less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live her entire life,” the group reported. “Unable even to spread their wings, caged laying hens are among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness.”

Unlike battery hens, cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, vital natural behaviors denied to hens confined in cages.

"We’re thrilled with the health care sector taking animal welfare and sustainability seriously in its food procurement," said Karin Olsson, outreach manager at The Humane Society. "Moving to cage-free eggs lines up with this core commitment."

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