From the NYT:

The toy industry had its Tickle Me Elmo, the automakers the Prius and technology its iPhone. Now, the food world has its latest have-to-have-it product: the cage-free egg.

What the cluck, you ask?

Cage Free is not Free Range

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According to the story, dozens of vendors — ranging from universities to hotel chains, Whole Foods to Burger King — are scrambling to get their share of the (somewhat more) humanely raised hen-product. Some companies may have even counted their eggs before they hatched: last fall, Ben and Jerry’s laid out a plan to put all their eggs in a cage-free basket, but said it would take four years to make the switch.

What does this have to do with the price of eggs?

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The eggs can cost an extra 60 cents a dozen on the wholesale market. But most chicken farmers are not ripping out cages and retrofitting their barns. They question whether the birds are really better off, saying that keeping thousands of hens in tight quarters on the floor of a building can lead to hunger, disease and cannibalism.

Eggs labeled organic and free-range come from chickens with access to the outdoors. But most cage-free chickens never peck in a barnyard during their lives, which last from 12 to 18 months. The term ‘cage free’ is lightly regulated. Companies get approval to use it on their labels through the Food Safety Inspection Service of the Agriculture Department, which does not actually inspect laying operations.

Alright, so maybe the cage-free-egg industry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but let’s look at the sunny-side up:

A few years ago, about 2 percent of the 279 million laying hens in the United States were not confined to small cages, according to statistics from the United Egg Producers. Now that figure is closer to 5 percent.

‘There is more demand than supply right now,’ said [Adele Douglass of Humane Farm Animal Care]. ‘But as far as I’m concerned, that is exactly what we want. We want consumer demand up.’

In this case, eggers can be choosers, and animal-welfare groups are helping egg on the cause.

The Humane Society of the United States began a campaign against battery cages in 2005, pressuring egg producers to improve conditions and companies to change their policies. Last week, the group took on Wendy’s with a series of print and radio advertisements urging the company to follow Burger King’s lead on eggs.

If Wendy’s doesn’t take some action soon, the chain could end up with egg on its face.

And so could I, if I try to poach one more crack out of this story.