Most people agree that it is wrong to inflict pain or suffering on animals for no good reason. Most people agree that hens kept in battery cages are suffering. But what about free range? Barn laid? Organic? You would assume that under these systems the hens live happy lives out in open fields, lives free of suffering, and they only die naturally from old age. This image is reinforced by cartoons of hens roaming freely, and people talking lots about the problems of battery farms, but not about the problems with free range.
In order to get laying hens you need fertile eggs. Half of these hatch into male roosters. Because roosters don't lay eggs, they are of no use to the egg industry. The day-old-chicks are either gassed with gasses such as carbon dioxide or are killed by instantaneous fragmentation.1 So every time a free range farmer buys a laying hen, a male rooster is killed. Surplus or 'substandard' chicks are also killed. 2
There is little to no regulation governing how "free range" hens are to be treated. For example, there are no regulations that govern how often "free range" hens are actually allowed access to the outdoors. A 2010 investigation carried out by NZ Open Rescue found that even a small scale commercial "free range" operation had issues with overcrowding, with several thousand hens crammed in a shed. Several hens suffered from prolapses and many had rubbed red raw skin.
Free range hens may have their beaks trimmed 3 with a hot blade or laser when they are less then ten days old. Debeaking is an extremely painful process that is done without any pain killers. Debeaked hens show forms of neuroma indicating chronic pain.4
According to the Brambell Committee, a group of veterinarians and other experts appointed by the British Parliament: “Between the horn and bone is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue, resembling the quick of the human nail. The hot knife used in debeaking cuts through this complex of horn, bone and sensitive tissue causing severe pain.”
Even free range farms may send their entire flocks to the slaughterhouse when they start laying fewer eggs 3. Sometimes the farmer may kill the hens on farm, by holding the bird upside down and twisting their neck 5.
Organic, free-range and cage-free hens all end their lives at the same slaughterhouses as battery hens.
When they stop producing eggs, the chickens are caught by their legs, thrown into crates, and transported to the slaughterhouse where each bird is shackled upside down to a chain. As the chain moves along, the chicken’s head dips into a waterbath stunner. Workers then slice across the back of the chicken’s neck 6. The waterbath stunner does not actually kill the bird. Occasionally a bird may regain consciousness, but be unable to move because the spinal cord has been cut – and the slaughterhouse worker will not be able to tell that the chicken is awake and aware. Some chickens die miserably through having their heads pulled off by the “automatic head puller” machine while still conscious 7.
All egg, regardless of whether they are free-range or battery farmed cause hens to suffer and die. Male hens are killed by instantaneous fragmentation, birds may be debeaked and female hens are slaughtered when they stop producing eggs.
We all agree that it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering and death to nonhuman animals. At the least, this must mean that it is wrong to kill for reasons of pleasure, convenience or habit. Using eggs, and other animal products, causes suffering and death to billions of nonhuman animals. And our only justification for using these products is that we derive pleasure from how they taste, look or feel, it is convenient to use them or it is habit to use them. This is not a good justification.
Even in the most 'humane' conditions, animals are still treated as nothing more than economic commodities.
Free range eggs are not the solution. The solution, is veganism.
Veganism is an ethical stance against animal exploitation and a recognition of the rights of animals not to be property and not to be harmed or killed for no good reason.
In practical terms, that means not eating, wearing or using animal products and products tested on animals. Vegans don't use things like meat, dairy, eggs, and leather.
Going vegan means that you will not participate in the suffering and death of more than 52 billion animals every year 8.
Veganism is something that we can all do today to help animals, and it's really easy!
Go to http://www.nzdairy.webs.com/ to learn about how drinking milk harms cows, as well as find a list of vegan eateries, recipes, products and more.
1) Animal welfare (layer hens) code of welfare 2005, 3.1 Hatchery Management
2) Animal welfare (broiler chickens: fully housed) code of welfare 2003
3) "Bio Eggs Product Standards" Eco Egg Company Limited, May 14, 2006
4) W. Temple and T.M. Foster, "The welfare status of egg production in New Zealand" Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production 53 (1993): 215-217
5) "Choosing Chooks. Part 2" New Zealand lifestyle farmer April 2006 30-31
6) Animal welfare (commercial slaughter) code of welfare 2006: draft code of welfare 10 (Wellington: NAWAC, 2006)
7) N.G. Gregory, J.K. Robins and T.A. Stewart, "Blood spots in chicken meat after slaughter: a humane alternative" New Zealand veterinary journal 47 (1999): 77-78
8) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2003