Opinion: How Does Going Egg-Free Help Save Chickens?
It is very rare when somebody is born vegan. Those who have chosen veganism as their lifestyle have given up meat and dairy for various reasons, whether it’s health concerns, advocating for animals, caring for the environment, or just part of their diet. To me, the decision to give up eggs has come naturally, and I admit I was ignorant about the agricultural industry in general, but apart from that, I did not dig into that to learn more. Many people refuse to learn new information, do fact-checking - they live in accordance with what they want to believe. There are plenty of ways to advocate for animals, but the simplest one that does not require any particular skills is to go vegan. Going vegan can save a lot of animals, even though, at first glance, it may not seem so. But if each of us, or at least, some of us, stops contributing to that horrifying type of business, it will eventually make a big difference in the animal world. There are certainly different circumstances given the cultural background, the geographical location, and simply life circumstances that may be an exception, but while a wide variety of choices has been given to us, it is in our control to stop supplying the factory farms that cruelly treat farmed animals.
Are “cage-free” really cage-free?
Apart from being cramped in filthy cages or in crowds, chickens that are kept for egg production purposes, otherwise known as egg-laying hens, are not only unacceptably treated, but also abused by being the victims of various customary practices that are not regulated by law. A great example with egg-laying hens is forced molting, a practice where birds are withdrawn from food for 7-14 days and sometimes from water to improve hens’ egg-laying process. During the forced molting, birds stop producing eggs for a certain period of time, and this allows the egg production rate to increase in the future and the quality of eggs becomes higher. Apart from the food and water withdrawal, sometimes hens are also deprived of light except daylight to stimulate egg production. Sometimes hens are also fed a low-density diet.
And even though it is natural for hens to lay eggs, are they laying them in good conditions? Chickens naturally sunbathe and spread their wings, but they are not capable of doing that in factory farms. And while lots of jurisdictional areas from across the globe are issuing new regulations with regard to the treatment of hens in factory farms and shifting to “cage-free,” there is another question: do those eggs really come cage-free? Depending on the jurisdiction, the term “cage-free” can be interpreted differently, but the general meaning is supposed to be that hens were not raised in battery cages. Basically, if a consumer sees the egg carton with the label “cage-free” or “free-range,” they would assume that chickens were raised on an open field with grass, treated properly, cared for, and loved by their owners, or at least that hens were grown naturally. Sounds like a convincing statement for lots of consumers not familiar with the actual truth.
The egg production process
Male chicks are considered useless and unwanted in the agricultural industry. The reason is simple - male chicks are not able to lay eggs and are not suitable for meat. So where do all male birds go after they’re born? There are different ways to “get rid” of those animals. Some are put on the industrial conveyor belt that heads for the macerator. As a result, male chicks are ground up while animals are still conscious and alive. Other industries take the male chicks, put them inside the plastic bags, and throw them away, so chicks are suffocated to death. There are other ways of killing “waste” chicks, such as shredding, crushing, or gassing them to death. Even if eggs are coming “cage-free,” “free-range,” or “organic,” it does not mean they were saved from the macerator.
Approximately 7 billion male chicks are killed around the world. These numbers do not include those hens that are not able to produce more eggs because of being exhausted and broken. Other countries with data available, for example, Australia kills more than 12 million male chicks per year. The United Kingdom kills about 30-40 million male birds annually. In the United States, approximately 300 million male chicks are culled per year.
Egg-laying hens are usually only 18 months old when they are sent to the slaughterhouses. Hens naturally have the instinct to lay eggs in privacy, to nest, and to sit on their eggs. They also communicate with their unborn babies, however, it is obvious that in the agricultural industry it is impossible because their babies are taken away immediately.
Egg-laying hens, besides the suffering that was mentioned above, experience broken bones. Hens are used to lay as many eggs as possible to supply the business, but “each eggshell requires a lot of calcium, and hens do not get enough in their diets, so their bodies use up the supplies in their bones.” As a result, one-third of all birds experience at least one fracture, and osteoporosis and broken bones are very common.
Last but not least, hens are deliberately injured. Because of the tiny cages or the crowd, chickens experience a lot of stress. This results in birds pecking at each other, which leads to injuries. This experienced stress of hens causes fewer eggs laid, so the industry does another customary husbandry practice that falls outside the scope of the law. This practice is debeaking, a process of cutting off the beak with a hot blade that causes acute and chronic pain.
While many people assume that eggs are good for one’s health, some studies have demonstrated that consuming eggs may increase LDL cholesterol. Moreover, in 2019, the researchers stated that a 17-year study of 30 000 adults has shown that “each half egg eaten per day led to a 6% increased risk of heart disease and an 8% increased risk of mortality.” Eggs can contain some useful nutrients, such as choline and lutein, but these can also be found in plants.
Recently, a new method has been discovered to use in the poultry industry, which is called in-ovo sexing. In-ovo sexing is basically a method to identify the sex of the bird while they are still inside the egg. This method involves the scientific approach using various methods to determine the birds’ gender before they are born. But the problem with the egg industry does not only harm the male chicks that are considered “waste” for the industry, it also injures and abuses egg-laying hens that are raised and kept for commercial purposes. Is there a humane method to raise chickens? Certainly not in the huge factory farms. Do you think vegans did not or do not like the taste of eggs? I bet they do, but the desire to stop the filthy industry is higher than personal satisfaction. Animal liberation shall come in the first place, especially when it concerns the appalling treatment of living beings.