Photo by Devika Agarwal.
Photo by Devika Agarwal.

While UC Santa Cruz has been praised for going green, the school’s refusal to make one particular sustainable change has some students seeing red.

Last week, Eric Deardorff, co-founder of Banana Slugs for Animals (BSA), sent UCSC Dining Services a petition with over 1,400 signatures demanding the use of cage-free eggs in the dining halls.

The campus animal rights group posted the online petition after hearing that Dining Services had abandoned a previous plan to make a campus-wide switch to cage-free eggs.

“They’ve failed to follow through on their promises,” said Deardorff, a fourth-year. “We tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they dropped the ball.”

Last October, Dining Services director Scott Berlin told BSA that the school planned to switch over 90 percent of the eggs on campus to cage-free after a year of collaboration.

However, Dining Services still has not made the change — a decision Berlin attributes to the budget.

“We’re sympathetic and on-board,” Berlin said. “It’s something we’d like to do, but it’s not the right time.”

After the initial cost estimate jumped 50 percent to $70,000 a year, Dining Services nixed the plan. Berlin explained that this higher cost isn’t feasible in light of recent layoffs and high operational costs.

“Hypothetically, say everyone wants to do this — it’s one item,” he said. “The number is out of context until you put it in the bigger picture.”

Berlin said Deardorff’s estimate, compiled from Dining Services-released data, of an additional $3 a month for meal-plan holders was “not even in the ballpark.”

Currently, students can request cage-free eggs in campus dining halls and cafés. Signs are posted informing diners of the option, but Deardorff and others say the small signs often go unnoticed.

Berlin said UCSC will eventually make the change. The University of California Office of the President’s (UCOP) Strategic Sources Committee is developing a UC-wide bid for cage-free eggs to lower the cost.

Deardorff said members of BSA are happy with UCOP’s plan as a long-term solution, but it doesn’t address the current demand.

“They’ve been telling us they’re ‘in the beginning stages’ for months,” he said. “But they could start buying cage-free eggs now and continue to work on a lower price.”

While the group recognizes the effect the impacted budget has had on Dining Services, the petition names a number of California universities that have transitioned despite budgetary concerns.

Berlin said because there is no systemwide policy on the issue, the comparison to other schools is irrelevant.

Deardorff said the university’s reputation as a leader in the green movement makes implementing the change to cage-free eggs that much more necessary.

“Santa Cruz prides itself on being the leader in sustainability, but on this particular issue we’re lagging,” he said. “UCSC should live up to its name as supposedly one of the most environmentally friendly campuses in the country.”

Environmental concerns regarding battery-cage eggs include pollution, which is the result of the crowded warehouses where battery cages are stacked.

“Since battery-cage operations have hundreds of thousands, often millions, of animals confined in one location, it’s much more difficult for the environment to absorb … the pollution,” Deardorff said.

Berlin said that while he appreciates these concerns, they won’t affect Dining Services’ decision. He pointed out that many signers are UCSC staff members and not meal-plan holders. The real decision, he said, is up to the students who purchase meal plans.

“We’ve been a leader in sustainability,” Berlin said. “We do things other universities aren’t doing. The commitment is there.”