The future looks grim for the industrial egg

California’s Prop 12, which prohibits the sale of eggs in the state from chickens housed in battery cages, along with the arrival of the first viable egg substitutes, amounts to a one-two punch that could mark the beginning of the end of the industrial egg, writes Rowan Jacobsen in FERN’s latest story, published with New Food Economy.

“Proposition 12 was vigorously opposed by the egg industry because it will raise the price of conventional eggs,” writes Jacobsen. “That alone wouldn’t be enough to hobble the industry; if consumers have no alternative, they’ll eat the higher prices. But it happens to have arrived only a few weeks after the first impressive egg substitute hit the market, a mung-bean-based formulation called Just Egg that can fool most of the people most of the time.”

Given that the egg business has been beset for years with outbreaks of food-borne illness and increased public awareness of the awful lives that the chickens who lay those eggs live, the combination of higher prices and alternative that works will be tough for the industry to overcome.

“Food startups have been casting their disruptive gaze over the food industry for years, seeing lots of targets,” writes Jacobsen. “The environmental footprint of meat production is extraordinarily high, and numerous companies are developing substitutes for beef, dairy, pork, and chicken. But those are tough takedowns. A steak or roast chicken has a whole gestalt of flavor, texture, and glory that is difficult to replicate. Likewise, the free-range, farm-fresh egg won’t soon go out of style. But the industrial egg is an unloved, $8-billion utility ingredient with a serious PR problem. When the high-tech hyenas eyed the egg, they saw a limping gazelle trailing the herd.”