All of today’s industrial egg operations cut costs by cruelly confining egg-laying hens. Those who are kept in so-called “battery cages” – small wire cages stacked one on top of the other in massive warehouses, suffer unimaginably. Hens are often packed into cages so tiny that they each have less space to move and stretch their wings than the size of a single piece of printer paper. It is impossible for hens to express any natural behaviors while living out their entire lives in these cages, and they suffer from massive negative health consequences through cage malfunctions, disease-infested environments, and the stress of standing on a wire mesh twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
“Cage-free” egg options are often touted as “humane,” but these hens are also subject to cruel confinement, of a different sort. “Cage-free” means nothing more than what it says – no battery cages. These hens are still generally kept in incredibly crowded, unsanitary conditions and never see the outdoors. “Free-range” eggs are no solution. These hens may technically be able to go outside, but their outdoor space is often nothing more than a dirt lot, and it is not uncommon for the opening to the lot to be too small to provide access to a majority of the thousands of birds in the warehouse. Neither label ensures ethical or humane treatment of the animals.
Regardless of the housing system, all modern hens are subject to the intensive process of egg-laying itself. Through breeding, each hen is programmed to lay an average of 250 eggs per year – a huge, unnatural amount that quickly depletes the hen’s supply of calcium and often causes fatal liver disorders. After as little as a year in egg production, a hen is considered “spent” and is sent to slaughter to be used in low-grade chicken products.
Finally, like the male “veal calves” who are born as a by-product of the dairy industry, male chicks who are hatched by the millions in the process of breeding more laying hens are economically useless to the industry, and are disposed of in the cheapest way possible. This could mean being put into garbage bags while still alive and left to suffocate or starve, or thrown into a woodchipper.
- Why Should We Care?
- Animal Testing
- Companion Animals
- What to Do?