Since eggs don’t require an animal to die, like milk or dairy products, how can they be cruel? It is a question many ask today, especially if they have never visited an egg operation in which as many as 30,000 laying hens are crowded together in one barn.
Despite the “spin” about agriculture creating jobs, egg operations typically assign about one employee to 250,000 hens, housed in as many as sixteen barns. The only “care” the caretakers can provide, beside giving feed, is removing dead hens, “spent” hens to be euthanized and installing newly arrived hens from the hatchery.
Nor would you want to be in the barn longer than necessary. Concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and ammonia from animals’ dropping (over which they are housed) are so high that people faint and sustain burned lungs. United Egg Producers (UEP), the trade group that represents 85 percent of US egg producers and 180 egg farms, says in its guidelines that the ammonia fumes “should not adversely affect bird health.” Right.
Crowding is just the beginning of the egg farm experience for birds. To keep the caged birds from their natural instinct to peck each other, young birds are debeaked–their beaks are partially or totally removed with a hot knife or laser while they are fully conscious.
Debeaking results in, “Intense pain, shock and bleeding,” says veterinarian Nedim C. Buyukmihci, Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California. “Some chicks may die outright in the process,” says Buyukmihci, who has specialized in farmed animals and chickens, “and there is loss of weight because the chicks are too painful or disfigured to eat properly, sometimes because the tongue is injured or severed during the process.”
What happens to the hens when they are “spent”? Seventy to 85 percent of egg farm hens are euthanized admits the egg industry, often in unsavory ways that we would not wish on our worst enemies. For example, a few years ago, 30,000 hens were fed live into a wood chipper at Ward Egg Ranch in San Diego County, CA. That is how much egg “farmers” value the hens on whose production and profits they live.
Temple Grandin, PhD, the celebrity animal scientist, confirms the cruelty in a paper she presented at the National Institute of Animal Agriculture. “Some egg producers got rid of old hens by suffocating them in plastic bags or dumpsters. When the egg producers asked me if I wanted cheap eggs I replied, ‘Would you want to buy a shirt if it was $5 cheaper and made by child slaves?’ Hens are not human but research clearly shows that they feel pain and can suffer.”
Now comes news that bird flu has broken out in the high-volume egg laying operations that invite such diseases through their profit-hungry intensive conditions. In Iowa, where nearly 1 in every 5 eggs consumed in the United States comes from, 5 million birds will be killed. In Wisconsin, the National Guard has been readied for the agricultural “emergency.”
But of course the national concern isn’t about the fate of the egg-laying hens. It is about the fate of the nation’s cheap eggs and the producers who live off them regardless of the cost in animal suffering.