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Interactive design for sustainable egg production: alignment of niche and regime actors.
Sierk Spoelstra

Last modified: 2012-03-19


The Netherlands is a main egg producing and exporting country. Annually 10 billion eggs are produced of which 80% is exported.  Societal criticism from the 1980's on notably animal welfare of caged layers led to introduction of alternative husbandry systems allowing hens to move freely in the house. Nevertheless, in 2000 still 80% of the eggs were produced by caged layers. The acceptance in 1999 of the EU Directive to ban conventional cages for layers, effective from January 2012, prompted the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture to commission a research project for alternatives. This project named Keeping and loving hens was from the onset meant to contribute to change of Dutch egg sector towards sustainability by expliciting and integrating basic needs of the hen, farmer and citizens in an interactive design process with stakeholders. The design envisaged  a combination of  income to the farmer, acceptance to the public and improved animal welfare (Groot Koerkamp and Bos, 2008). The design process of Keeping and loving hens which ended in 2004 elicited a concatenation of follow up activities by various actors. Many of these follow up activities have been evaluated and published. Evaluations included learning effects of  the stakeholders involved in the design process, the learning processes of 5 entrepreneurs striving to realise parts of the design, animal welfare and environmental performances of 2 realised new husbandry systems and framing in professional and public media of new supply chain and its overall sustainability assessment. In summary,  animal welfare o.a. by using no beak trimmed hens,  farmers income and local embedment were improved over conventional aviary systems, whereas no improvements in the emissions to the environment were found. Overall sustainability assessment showed improved farmers income and local embedment. Framing in the public was rather neutral or positive in framing the new husbandry system as a first step on a route to sustainable egg production.

Taken together these evaluations form a detailed description of a route for change. Analysis shows that the design of well-founded images of a more sustainable egg production elicited entrepreneurial innovation which gained support of animal welfare organization and retail.  Furthermore it prompted government to develop additional policy instruments to support innovation for sustainable development. This supports the observation of Bos et al. (2011) that the design process, although focusing on the husbandry system not only elicited innovation niches but also aligned niche formation with changes in the existing regime. Thus  Mid-2011 4 egg producing facilities were in operation according to the principles developed in the project which included free ranging of none beak trimmed layers,  representing about 0.4% of total egg production. However, the main outcome is a realignment of  actors including farmers, retail, animal welfare organization and  government. Together they contribute to a pattern of emergent supply chains consisting of improved sustainable animal production at the farm level coupled to a possibly emerging market that is prepared to pay a premium for these products.


Bos, A.P. , S.F. Spoelstra, P.W.G. Groot Koerkamp, K.H. de Greef  and O.N.M. van Eijk (2011). Reflexive design for sustainable animal husbandry: mediating between niche and regime. IN: Spaargaren, G., Loeber, A. & Oosterveer, P. (Eds.) A transition perspective of sustainable food and agriculture. London, Routledge.

Groot Koerkamp, P.W.G., and A.P. Bos, 2008. Designing complex and sustainable agricultural production systems: An integrated and reflexive approach for the case of table egg production in the Netherlands, NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 55: 113-138.