While 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 .