SANTIAGO – Chile loves eggs: it’s the fifth largest consumer of them in Latin America. For a while now, too, many in and outside the industry have looked for ways to improve conditions for egg-producing hens. “Happy hens” are the initial result, but a revolution around conscious production maybe the long-term product.
At present, in Chile about 4 billion eggs are produced per year, positioning the country as the fifth largest consumer of eggs in Latin America, behind Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Colombia.
Moreover, according to figures provided by la Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias (Office of Agricultural Studies and Policies), about 10 million eggs are consumed every day in Chile.
According to this same institution, in Chile there are approximately 47.7 million birds for productive purposes, of which 12.7 million are egg-producing hens.
Within this large poultry industry, a new trend is gaining traction, the so-called “gallinas felices” (“happy hens”).
What are Happy Hens?
According to Sitio Avícola (Poultry Site), the happy hens (or cage-free) production system is defined as the maintenance of free birds, i.e., a system that “allows the animal to express its natural behavior and also has measures to ensure to the consumer an innocuous food.”
This system was initiated after consumers called for better treatment of egg-laying hens. As reported by La Tercera, initial changes included the hens going from confinement (170 cm2) to relative freedom, “with space to walk and stretch their wings but rarely outdoors.” Then, over time, the system further evolved to include grazing, which allowed the animals to venture “outdoors with abundant exposure to the sun and space to spread.”
An “Unimaginable Boom”
Although the happy hens egg business started as a niche product in Chile, where it was very difficult to find and buy these eggs, the situation is very different now. As reported by EMOL, production nationwide doubled in 2018.
According to ChileHuevos, in 2017, only 1% of eggs were produced in systems without cages; but, in 2018, 2% were. That’s about 76 million eggs.
“Yes, it is still a low number in relation to the traditional industry, but consumption has doubled in just one year. There are more brands, some formal and some informal, but what matters is that there is more awareness,” said the general manager and founder of Ecoterra (company producing eggs through happy hens), Pablo Albarrán, in a conversation with EMOL. In fact, as EMOL noted, this was an “unimaginable boom,” which “surprised the industry itself.”
Today, Chile is at the forefront of this industry, thanks to Avícola Coliumo (Coliumo Poultry), from the Ñuble region, as reported by La Nación. After 50 years under the traditional production system, Coliumo “installed in San Carlos a system of breeding of free hens unique in South America and that replicates models present in Europe and the United States.”
Many others Chilean brands are also now dedicated to better animal treatment, among them the aforementioned Ecoterra and Gallina Feliz. The latter defines this form of production as the result of a sustainable development and production model, which, as a reward, offers superior nutritional quality and a better taste.
It should be noted, however, that although there is currently a boom for these eggs, it can be difficult to verify the origins of eggs and whether they really do come from cage-free hens. This is why companies dedicated to this category now have some type of certification, such as Certified Humane®.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.