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‘Cage-Free’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Cruelty-Free’

Posted by at 1:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)


'Cage-Free' Doesn't Mean 'Cruelty-Free' by Scott VanValkenburgWhile the recent salmonella outbreak in eggs may turn public opinion on the safety of animal products, a recent New York Times article focused on something much more important: the suffering of some 340 million chickens for egg production and the various marketing schemes that the U.S. egg industry employs to keep consumers in the dark.

Or, should I say to keep chickens in the dark? When I entered one of the largest egg factory-farm barns in the world many years ago as part of a delegation of Ohio family farmers and local humane society representatives, the darkness of the place was surpassed only by the noise. Tens of thousands of hens were crammed in cages in long rows that disappeared into the darkness ahead of me in a factory as long as a football field. The birds were packed so tightly together that they could only move if a cagemate was pushed out of the space; they couldn’t even stretch a wing. This was the “battery cage” system at its worst.

The article notes that 97 percent of eggs come from battery-cage operations. I’ll spare you the details of what I saw inside and outside of this highly mechanized facility, but certainly no compassionate person would approve.

One way to help prevent some of the suffering is to ban battery cages. I was glad to hear that Ohio won’t allow construction of new battery-cage facilities and that the European Union has taken action to prohibit some of the system’s worst abuses.

Many well-intentioned people choose to buy cage-free or free-range eggs instead; The Times states that 2 percent of U.S. egg sales are eggs from cage-free hens and that another 1 percent are from free-range birds. Take a look at this photo (on the right) of cage-free hens and tell me if it looks like freedom to you. While the birds can stretch their wings, they are confined for life to a cramped building. And while free-range birds have access to the outdoors, The Times notes that critics of the “cage-free” label point out that the doors are small and that they’re not always kept open. It sounds more like the birds are spending their time in a prison yard rather than scratching and pecking in grass and plowed fields, as the label seems to suggest.

Are you going to trust labels that imply humane treatment when The Times quotes Mitch Head of the United Egg Producers as stating that most cage-free and free-range eggs come from the same farms that produce battery-cage eggs? The industry is delighted that the number of consumers who are willing to pay higher prices for cage-free and free-range eggs is growing.

It’s also important to keep in mind that male chicks born in egg-laying operations are discarded like trash into bins in which they suffocate-or into machines that grind them up, usually while they’re still alive-and that hens only live about two years before they are crammed onto trucks and sent to the same slaughterhouses that broilers (chickens raised for their flesh) go to die a painful death.

Chickens are sensitive, intelligent animals, so please consider breaking with the egg industry and going vegan. Recipes and resources are available at VegCooking.com and you can order our free veg starter kit here .

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    Elaine Apsche says...

    September 1st, 2010, 6:26 pm

    The cruelty inflicted upon any animal is inexcusable. However, there are some other alternatives to giving up eggs. Our family raises one chicken and she lays enough eggs for all of us. She lives in the lap of chicken luxury and we love her!! You can also by eggs from cruel-free farms.

    anne speakman says...

    September 1st, 2010, 8:10 pm

    i have chickens, a solution, even in the city, it takes only a small amount of room for them to scratch eat, and be a chicken as God made them

    Jackie Sullivan says...

    September 1st, 2010, 9:55 pm

    Please stop this cruel practice, have a heart! Enough said!

    Kimberly says...

    September 1st, 2010, 10:01 pm

    Is there a humane option BESIDES going vegan? The well-intentioned cage-free buyers want to do the right thing here. What do you suggest? Local farmers? Big brands with humane commitments? Are there any?? I’ll pay whatever… but I’m at a loss.

    Barbara Bellucio says...

    September 2nd, 2010, 12:06 pm

    Sooooooo, why can’t this industry be regulated? You need eggs for alot of receipes. I guess you need to get your own hens. So sad but true, but most people don’t care about the suffering of chickens, they are just something out of sight that gives them something to eat for breakfast!!!How they are kept makes me sick!!!!!

    kate says...

    September 2nd, 2010, 12:29 pm

    hi, thanks for the article, it’s not reassuring to know that even if you try to buy free range eggs, the hens are still badly treated.. I’m “just” a vegetarian, living in france is hard enough already without being vegan, but as for my eggs, they come from my own very free chickens who have their own field to scratch around in at my mum’s house :) (they also love cuddles) so I severed my ties with the egg industry ages ago. what about the milk industry?

    Scott says...

    September 3rd, 2010, 8:52 am

    Hi,
    I do a lot of egg-free baking and cooking. Great substitutes are listed here: http://www.vegcooking.com/vegcooking-eggreplace.asp It isn’t practical for most people to get their own chickens; they would be too ill-informed to take care of the birds correctly. Kate cuddles hers and I’ll bet she would take the veterinarian if the hen wasn’t feeling well. Not eating eggs at all is the only way to be truly humane, but the next best thing would be to find a farmer that you can buy directly from. Might be a pain to do, but then the pain wouldn’t be experienced by the chickens (until they stop laying eggs, at which time they will be killed by the farmer, but at least they had a life you can see first-hand is half-way humane). Seriously though, try the recipes at vegcooking.com!

    Sarah says...

    September 3rd, 2010, 6:48 pm

    I am happy to say I never liked eggs. I used to have to leave the house and go in the backyard while my mother made her eggs for breakfast on weekends because I could not tolerate the smell of eggs cooking. I am glad I never liked what is essentually the product of a chiken’s menses cycle. Still I do not trust any industry that kills or exploits animals so I finally became vegan about 1.5 years ago again. I used to think of eggs as the essential glue for all baked goods. Happily this is an incorrect way to think of eggs. No more guilt while I eat.

    Sarah says...

    September 3rd, 2010, 6:50 pm

    Sorry about mispellings. Always happens when I do not proof read what I have written.

    Charly-ann Marlor says...

    September 4th, 2010, 5:02 pm

    Sick :(

    Eloise says...

    September 4th, 2010, 7:03 pm

    Is this in england too? And what about the milk industry?

    Glenn says...

    September 6th, 2010, 4:01 pm

    I’ve been a vegetarian ( no flesh) for 31 years, and a vegan for almost 4 years. I should have made the switch to veganism sooner, because for ethical reasons, if you eat eggs, you’re still promoting factory farming. Here’s to more vegans, and less animal suffering:)

    Heather M says...

    March 3rd, 2012, 12:55 am

    Hens that are free scratch around for insects and eat all kinds of grasses therefore the eggs are so much healthier for us too. These places that say that the hens are free range when they aren’t are lying and so in time hopefully consumers will express their views continuously until these people decide it is time to give consumers what they want and what they have paid for. Happier hens, equals happier and healthier consumers.

    Anon says...

    February 13th, 2013, 12:52 pm

    Thanks for this article. Cage-free is not really free.

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