WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS (Sorry guys, I’m not really one for sad animal stuff, but it was unavoidable)
In a show of good faith, here’s a cute picture of a couple of hens in sweaters. This is the last cute thing you’ll see in this post. Now steady yourself and read on.
Free-Range Eggs: Why not?
In a sentence: Because when animals are a commodity to be used for profit, their welfare will always be second (or last) to their economic value.
If you agree with that statement, then you probably can just skip the rest of this post… but let’s have some fun together and talk a little more about this topic!
Eggs seem to be a pretty significant sticking point for people considering veganism and I get it. You’re facing a future without all the traditional breakfast foods that feature eggs as a centerpiece. How can I live without my crepes?! (As if I was ever talented enough to make a crepe…LOL at the thought).
Also, unlike cows (who do not produce milk unless they are pregnant) chickens do naturally produce eggs. It’s not something we make them do, it is in fact, a natural bodily function. So what’s the big deal, right? Chickens are going to produce
eggs anyway and if they are raised on a farm in a pasture-like setting and no one hurts them, where’s the harm?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of harm. I wish it wasn’t so, because hey man, I used to like eggs too. More importantly, I wish the chickens weren’t being harmed! And I certainly don’t like to be the bearer of bad news. So here’s the skinny on eggs… some universal truths about the egg industry (yes, even the organic/free-range/pasture/happy hens) and some secrets about the Free-Range egg industry specifically.
I am using the catch-all phrase of “Free-Range” when referring to non-factory farmed egg operations. I want to make clear that the definition of “Free-Range” for the purpose of this blog includes but is not limited to: pasture raised, free-range, cage-free, humanely raised, organic, vegetarian-fed, non-confined, free-runetc. There is a false belief that free-range is synonymous with free-from-harm. I will show that this (sadly) just is not true and that actually, eggs are synonymous with cruelty.
Let’s work our way backwards…
1. Universal Egg-Industry Truth: Hens are killed as soon as their egg production wanes.
Hens do lay eggs naturally, but they don’t lay eggs forever. Hens don’t begin laying eggs until they are approximately 6 months old and egg production begins to wane after her second birthday.
Our lovely lady-hens lay eggs in a tiny time window of 1 – 2 years. However, the average lifespan of a chicken is 10 years and some can live up to 15!
However, for an egg laying hen (even Free-Range), once her egg production declines, she is sent to slaughter (in the same awful semi-truck, to the same mass slaughter-house as all the other factory farmed chickens). In a typical commercial egg operation, hens are killed between 1 and 2 years old. So even in the best of circumstances… lets just say that the “Free-Range Farm” she lived on really is free-range and is everything else the marketing promises it to be (more on that in a moment).
The inescapable truth is that the end of her life will be at a factory farm slaughter-house where she will be hung upside down by her feet, her throat will be slit, and she will be turned into low quality meat product (like a chicken nugget/patty or dog/cat food). Sorry, graphic, I know.
The sad truth is, that even free-range farms have a bottom line and if one hen isn’t laying, they need replace those eggs. There just isn’t enough capacity to be retiring hens (to live out remaining 9 or so years of their life) and adding new hens to replace the old ones. The “old” hens have to go.
2. Free-Range Secrets: Free-Range isn’t really Free-Range… the labels are intentionally misleading.
First of all, there is no regulation on the term “Free-Range”. The definition is largely left up to individual egg operators to decide on the verbage of their labeling. There’s no enforced set of requirements that must be met to use free-range terminology, it could literally mean anything.
If you have a factory-style shed with 10,000 chickens inside and no windows but you have a 1′ x 1′ slat that is opened once a day for 20 minutes, you can call yourself free range. You can call yourself pasture range. You can say on your packaging that your hens have access to the outdoors and are free to roam. You can say pretty much anything. And who’s going to check on you?! It’s not like there’s an address on the box so that a concerned consumer can just drop by to check on the chickens.
Well what about the USDA?! Yes, the USDA checks but they’re not cross-referencing the labels with the conditions. Their job is to check for things like salmonella or e-coli poisoning in the eggs! Not the humane treatment of the hens.
Free-range hens aren’t safe from de-beaking, they aren’t guaranteed a vegetarian diet, they aren’t protected from over-crowding, they’re not even promised windows. A dark windowless shed is still free-range. Anything that’s not confined to a cage 24hrs a day is free-range.
I’ll circle back to my opening sentence: When animals are a commodity to be used for profit, their welfare will always be second (or last) to their economic value.
Case in point: Judy’s Family Farm.
I’m very grateful my fiancée recently went vegan. However, prior to that, he still ate meat & dairy and yes, it was on our grocery list. Judge me if you will, but that was the reality of my household and I believe the reality of many households where vegans and non-vegans c0-habitate.
Naturally, I tried to at least get the least of many evils and would buy only meat and dairy with the highest humane standards possible. For eggs, I bought Judy’s Family Farm. The packaging looked home-made, “Judy” only sold eggs in the 1/2 dozen, there were many promises on the package that the hens were treated humanely and they were definitely pasture raised, free to roam and perch freely, dust bathe, scratch, and do other happy chicken-things.
Literally this is what it said on the package: “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play'”
I live in the SF Bay Area so it was even a local company!! I believed all this to be true!
And I was wrong. Judy’s Family Farm was lying. Their lies were so egregious that they were slapped with a class-action lawsuit on the grounds that they violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act. Yeah.
Long story short, all their happy packaging was bullshit and the hens were in the aforementioned windowless shed with NO OUTDOOR ACCESS AT ALL. This experience snuffed out the last glimmer of hope that any animal commodity operation could be trusted.
Wide open spaces in the Sonoma Valley, huh? Well if by “wide open spaces” you mean the industrial windowless shed used to confine thousands of chickens is located in a wide open space, then yeah, I guess that’s true.
For the full story about the lawsuit brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund click here.
3. More Universal Egg Industry Truth: Only female chickens lay eggs. What happens to the boys? They’re killed.
Boy chickens are roosters. Maybe this isn’t news to you, but I personally never made that connection. You don’t know what kind of chickens you have until they hatch (pun intended) but just like people, there’s about a 50/50 split between boys and girls.
Girl Chicken = Hen = Lays Eggs
Boy Chicken = Rooster = Dies
Why would they kill the boys?! Because boys have no value. Not as chicken meat and not as egg layers. So they must be killed. Immediately. I’m talking moments after they hatch. Yes, I know, it’s awful but it’s true and at the very least, these little baby chicks deserve to have their truth told.
Mostly the male babies are lined up on a conveyor belt that drops them into a macerator alive. A macerator is exactly what it sounds like.
Other times, huge plastic bags are filled with baby chicks and they are smothered or crushed to death. I know it’s hard to believe but think about how many eggs you see at the supermarket.
Now imagine how many supermarkets there are in the United States.
And how many chickens are required to produce all those eggs.
Now remember that there were originally double the amount of chickens but half were boys.
Now it’s a little easier to believe that the egg factories really do fill factory-sized bags with chicks.
But you’re saying, “Wait! Those are factory chickens! Free-Range farms don’t do that!”. Yes, they do.
Egg operations get their chicks from hatcheries. Hatcheries do exactly what you think, they breed chickens, hatch millions of babies, immediately cull the males and sell the females to egg operations. All of this cruelty has already happened by the time the female chicks arrive at the farm. Free-Range farms aren’t just complicit in the culling of the boys, they are direct contributors because they drive the demand. No eggs = no hatcheries.
Well that’s pretty much why eating eggs is just as bad as eating chickens… I’m feeling kind of drained after writing all this. If you were brave enough to read this whole post and look that these horrible pictures, I want to say thank you. Thank you for wanting the truth. Thank you for not turning a blind eye because it’s painful to look.
Trust me, I don’t like writing about these awful truths. I don’t like typing in the search terms “factory farming male chicks” and scrolling though hundreds of horrific pictures so I can find one to put in this post. I do it because I think people have a right to the information. And I feel like these poor animals deserve for someone to take the time to put the information out there. They’re dying in silence. It’s only right that I give them a voice.