Colorado Goes All-In For Cage-Free Chicken Eggs

The price of a simple breakfast is about to skyrocket for Colorado residents. As of Jan. 1, the state will only allow sales of cage-free eggs to consumers, and this will have a tremendous impact on prices paid.

A small but growing number of states have implemented this regulation, and the effects on grocery shoppers are well documented. California residents now pay close to $5 for a dozen eggs, roughly $1.50 more than what Colorado shoppers pay.

The state joined California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Nevada, Utah, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in a group that either already banned caged egg production or has laws pending.

According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, farmers will be required next month to provide “scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing.” Enclosures must have at least one square foot per hen, and workers have to be able to stand upright.

Chickens must also be allowed to roam free in their enclosures. The agency said that cage-free housing allows chickens to “exhibit their natural behaviors.”

The new regulations, signed into law two years ago, do not apply to those with less than 3,000 chickens. Farmers starting in January have a two-year grace period before facing fines of up to $1,000. The state’s master plan is to be cage-free by 2025.

Colorado’s consumers, however, will see the effects far sooner.

UMass Amherst economist Isabella Weber told Vox that market prices for corn and other chicken feed products have already driven up costs for farmers to feed chickens.

And the consumer price index reports that all food items have increased an average of 10.9% in the last year alone. That figure runs through the end of October.

Colorado grocery shoppers by the end of next month will start noticing the letters “COO-COM” on the sides of their egg cartons. This means the eggs within are compliant with the new state law concerning 144-square inch requirements.

Matt Gallegos of the state Department of Agriculture said he believes that “probably 100%” of the state’s farmers are already compliant. He also noted that Colorado is not targeting small farmers but instead is going after “bigger egg producers.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the increase per dozen eggs to be an average of 73 cents. On top of the current avian flu outbreak, this will bring more sticker shock to already beleaguered grocery shoppers.