SOURCE: Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm

March 01, 2012 15:31 ET

Bay Area Hospitals Aggregate Demand to Push the Market for Certified-Humane, Cage-Free Eggs

Part of National Health Care Without Harm Effort to Green Hospital Food Services

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - Mar 1, 2012) - 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, one of the major food distributors serving the health care sector.

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center and John Muir Health are now purchasing 100% of their liquid eggs from Wilcox Farms. (Liquid eggs, which are pre-separated from their shells, are commonly used in institution and restaurant kitchens and constitute the majority of hospital egg purchases.) "At UCSF Medical Center, we use over 66,000 pounds of liquid eggs annually. 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. This is part of our larger goals in sustainable purchasing," says Jack Henderson, Associate Director of Nutrition and Food Services.

UCSF Medical Center and John Muir Health achieved this result through the guidance of the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility (SF PSR). SF PSR organizes the Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team, whose seven constituent hospitals have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge which states that healthy food must come from a food system that is economically viable, ecologically sustainable, and socially just. The hospitals share knowledge and pool their purchasing power in order to shift the marketplace toward healthier, sustainably-produced food. Two other members, the San Francisco VA Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente, plan to transition to liquid cage-free eggs this spring.

"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," says Lucia Sayre, co-director of San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility. The US Foodservice contract with Wilcox Farms is a significant decision, making cage-free eggs more accessible to other hospitals in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Wilcox Farms is a fourth generation family farm in Washington state. They are committed to converting their operation to 100% organic and cage-free in response to growing demand as well as the company's desire to sustain the land, community and company for the future. Their cage-free hens are free to run and preen with access to the outdoors and are certified humane by Humane Farm Animal Care.

"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. So when customers like UCSF and John Muir Health choose our products, it validates our decision to transition to cage-free and organic. This is a really positive motivator for our family," says co-owner Andy Wilcox.

The vast majority of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined in battery cages. On average, each caged hen is afforded less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live her entire life. 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. These advantages are very significant to the animals involved.

The Humane Society of the United States, which helped inspire the hospitals' efforts, has long been committed to ending the cruelty of caged-hen egg production. "We're thrilled with the health care sector taking animal welfare and sustainability seriously in its food procurement," says Karin Olsson, outreach manager at The Humane Society. "Moving to cage-free eggs lines up with this core commitment."

As a result of their commitment, the Hospital Leadership Team members are frontrunners in a groundbreaking shift toward cruelty-free animal production inaugurated by California ballot measure Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. Passed in 2008, the proposition prohibits the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The measure deals with three types of confinement: veal crates, battery cages, and sow gestation crates. The statute will become operative on January 1, 2015.

Cage-free eggs are just one part of a larger sustainability agenda for the San Francisco Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team. Along with over 380 hospitals nationwide, they have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge developed by Health Care Without Harm, indicating their commitment to providing local, nutritious and sustainably-produced food at their institutions. The San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility coordinates Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care program in California.

Health Care Without Harm has an ambitious healthy food agenda, which includes buying fresh food locally and/or buying certified organic food; avoiding food raised with growth hormones and antibiotics; encouraging group purchasing organizations (GPOs) to support healthy food in healthcare; supporting local farmers and farming organizations; introducing farmers' markets and on-site food box programs; reducing food waste; and establishing an overarching food policy at each health facility. To learn more about Health Care Without Harm's work on food and other issues related to health care www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org.

Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, working to transform the health care industry worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information on HCWH, see www.noharm.org.

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