Cage-free controversy halts some donations
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 02:04
Concurrent with a recent decision to continue using battery-cage instead of cage-free eggs, 103 alumni, including 12 of the university’s top donors, are withholding future donations.
Aaron Ross, co-director of the Humane League’s Maryland office, said these alumni, have pledged to stop donating until the university becomes exclusively cage-free.
He said specific donors, whose names he declined to reveal, are dismayed the university is still using battery-cage eggs after a more than year-long student campaign to stop the use.
In fall 2010, senior Chelsea McFadden, president of the Vegetarian Students Association, organized a petition of approximately 4,000 students and faculty who supported cage-free eggs and presented it to Dining Services officials.
Alumnus Jeff Boghosian, who is among the alumni who refused to donate money to the university, said animals raised in battery cages are confined, and therefore disease spreads more easily and there is a higher risk of salmonella contamination. He said the largest American salmonella contamination in eggs originated from two Iowa-based battery-cage farms during 2010.
McFadden said cage-free eggs are the best option for students and would require a minor cost that the university could afford.
According to a statement by university officials released Friday, money was a factor in denying the switch. Officials stated it would cost an additional $100,000 annually to serve cage-free eggs on campus.
Ross said many state schools have made the switch once they learned about the issue and were willing to pay a higher price to support humane and sustainable practices.
Ross said Dining Services officials defend their purchase of battery-cage eggs by stating they are certified by United Egg Producers, a large group of industrialized egg farmers representing 95 percent of all egg production in the country.
“Trusting the UEP animal welfare regulations is like trusting the petroleum industry to make its own pollution regulations,” Ross said. “It’s ridiculousBoghosian said he thinks the university is behind the curve on the social responsibility of serving its students. He said the change proposes such a small financial increase in meal plans that alumni look at the issue as a “no-brainer.”
McFadden said the switch to cage-free eggs would cost students $7 to $10 per meal plan per semester. Last month, the Student Government Association voted against recommending a switch to cage-free eggs based on a miscalculation of the increased price of meal plans, which estimated the cost at $18 to $20 per plan per semester.
After the initial vote in February, McFadden said in an interview with The Review that she felt switching to cage-free eggs would be a positive decision that the university should invest in despite SGA’s vote.
“I think that for something that is so important for human health and animal welfare and for the environment that this really is a worthwhile expenditure,” McFadden said. “It’s not something that’s frivolous.”
Sophomore Samantha Smaldone said this boycott will raise awareness of the issue on campus, but university officials do not have financial flexibility to pay for the cost of cage-free eggs because of other projects.
“We’re putting new statues in Mentors’ Circle, but can’t seem to come up with the money for something important like this,” Smaldone said.
Boghosian said he thinks the amount of monetary donations lost will be greater than the cost of switching to cage-free eggs. He said alumni and donors think the university is a world-class institution that should react in a socially responsible manner, and are disappointed the university has not switched.
University spokeswoman Andrea Boyle Tippett stated in an email message that university officials consulted the Vegetarian Student Association and SGA before making the decision to continue using battery-cage eggs.
“Notably both SGA and [Resident Student Association] recently voted against a change to cage-free eggs,” Boyle Tippett said. “As for alumni and donors, this decision has not been an issue of concern. To our knowledge, it has not impacted donations made to the university.”
Boghosian said he thinks the university will continue to lose financial donors as more of the community learns about the decision.
Alumna Alexa Krzyzanowski, who said she supports the boycott’s message but has not stopped sending donations to the university, said school officials put forth significant effort into gaining alumni donations and will react if the majority of donors refuse to contribute. She said she thinks if more people get involved, university officials will regret their decision and reconsider.
“Money talks, and that’s what it comes down to,” she said.
Freshman Alexandra Morris said McFadden’s petition raised awareness among students about the inhumane conditions of battery-cage eggs, but more people need to know what is being served in the dining halls to make a difference.
“If parents stop giving money for meal plans, the school will really pay attention to what the cause is, look into it and make the switch to cage-free,” Morris said.