What does it cost for a dozen eggs? Not in dollars and cents, but the price paid by the chickens that are raised to provide them. The animal food industry is nearly invisible to the average consumer, and for good reason. Most animal foods – meat, dairy and eggs – come from factory farm operations that keep their captives in conditions that many people would find deplorable.
In the case of laying hens, these animals are nothing more than expendable egg producing machines that are spent after one or two years. For decades, egg operations that raise their birds in battery cages have been publicly charged with cruelty by some animal advocates. Now that public sentiment is shifting toward food options that are more “natural” and “humane,” some egg producers are taking heed, switching to “cage-free/free-range” methods.
Superficially to the unwary consumer this sounds like a grand improvement, especially to those who have some sympathy for animals. But, what does it really mean for these birds? First, cage-free operations are held to no standards, nor is there a credible inspection system. And what do we find back on the “farm?” We’ve traded thousands of stressed birds crammed into cages in large dark building for thousands of stressed birds crammed into large dark buildings. Actually most cage-free “farms” would more correctly have to be called industrial operations.
That’s not all that is troubling. Cage-free hens and battery hens come from the same hatcheries, where the male birds (hundreds of millions per year) are killed by suffocation or ground up alive at one day old. Like their battery hen counterparts, most cage-free hens are debeaked. And when their production falls (approximately two years) they are sent to the same slaughterhouses or rendering plants.
Egg producers could not afford the costs associated with keeping thousands of spent hens until they died naturally. That could mean providing food, shelter and veterinary care for a decade or longer.
According to Michele Alley-Grubb, cofounder and operator of the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary in Colorado, some of the most egregious cases of animal abuse they have encountered have come from so-called “cage-free” facilities and “family” farms. She’s often asked, “Don’t you think it is still better that people buy cage-free eggs rather than the others if they are going to buy eggs anyway?” Alley-Grubb says, “It is like asking if strangulation is better than suffocation. The answer is: Neither is an acceptable option.”
The tragedy of this new variety of farm animal abuse is compounded by the fact that well-meaning consumers believe they’re making compassionate choices when in fact they’re financially supporting (and helping to perpetuate) inhumane systems. Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has joined the growing ranks of individuals and activists who are debunking the claims for “humanely” produced animal products.
Alley-Grubb says, “One of the most destructive things we can do for the animals is to lie to ourselves or allow ourselves to be fooled and misinformed into believing that animal agriculture of any kind is humane.”