FREE-RANGE EGGS - IS IT CONSISTENT WITH "ANIMAL RIGHTS"?
Remark: This article refers to the condition in Israel, but it resembles condition in all other developed countries.
The eggs industry is one of the cruelest industries to animals in Israel. Millions of day-old male chicks are tossed to garbage bags to die there, as growing them for meat is not financially profitable as they do not grow to be big enough. Chicks' beaks are cut with a hot blade, they are forced to lay eggs almost daily, they are denied the ability to conduct their normal social lives that chickens normally conduct when in groups, they undergo periods of being denied food and water to shock their bodies to produce more eggs. They are kept in crowded cages where each hen only has 20x20 square centimeters and cannot even stretch their wings. And, of course, their lives end with a cruel death.
There are a few differences between the "regular" egg industry and the egg industry that produces what are known as "free-range eggs" or "organic eggs":
- The hens are not kept in small cages that limit their motion to the extent that they can't even stretch their wings, rather in a pavilion with access to a yard.
- The hens have separate cells that allow them to lay their eggs in private, as opposed to the regular industry where the hens are forced to lay their eggs in their cage with all the other hens.
- The hens are not forced to stand on perforated, diagonal metal wiring - which causes them great aggravation and pain - but rather on a floor with sand.
- The violence between hens does not reach the levels it does among battery hens, where hens are not able to defend themselves because of the confinement of their motion.
- By the standards of organic farming, the technique of starving and denying water to the hens to increase their egg production is forbidden.
Seemingly, free-range hens do not suffer much; they have big cages, laying chambers, there is less violence and they have comfortable bedding to walk on. Unfortunately, there are many more similarities between the regular egg industry and the organic egg industry. One who buys free-range eggs / organic eggs still supports and finances:
- Killing of male chicks.
- Debeaking of the hens.
- The hens are genetically bred to lay as many as 300 eggs per year instead of the 12-20 that they would naturally lay. In addition, the eggs they are bred to lay are larger than the tube that the eggs go through in their bodies, so each laying is accompanied by pain and pressure being applied to their inner-organs around the tube to the extent that sometimes some of their inner organs fall out of their body
- The hens are killed as soon as their egg-production decreases to the point that it is not profitable.
- The hens are prohibited from incubating their own eggs despite their strong instinct to do so, as the eggs are taken away from them.
As such, we can see that the free-running egg industry is also a very cruel industry as well. We are still dealing with the encaging of hundreds of hens per coop, the hens are still coerced to lay almost daily - causing considerable pain; being separated from their normal lifestyle; the male chicks are still tossed to the garbage bins; hens are still debeaked and murdered when their production decreases. No one would support such an industry, per se. No one would encourage others to buy from such an industry, per se. People, however, do buy from this industry because they look at it in comparison to the regular egg industry. Given a choice between the two, it's obvious which is preferable. But there is another option: To refrain from consuming eggs to any products containing eggs, and endeavor that is actually easier than one would suppose.
To look in a "positive" way, so in the best case scenario, free-range coops are just like regular ones in the meat industry: Confinement, genetic breeding, and killing. In the worst case scenario, they are worse, because in addition to the aforementioned cruelties, there continuous abuse for about two years, the eggs are taken away from the hens on a daily basis, inflicted physics pain and, of course - male chicks that are crushed and suffocate in the garbage.
The attempt to compare between the types of ways to produce eggs and to conclude to buy free-range eggs because the 'regular' techniques are too cruel is a failed attempt, because the decision of whether or not to buy free-range eggs is a decision in and of itself. By the same measure one could contend that it is preferable to eat chicken rather to buy free-range eggs, or that it is preferable to eat cow meat vs. chicken. But we can be vegetarians, so it is irrelevant to debate which is worse - the industry that produces chicken or the industry that produces veal. The same is true about eggs - we can be vegan and not have to choose between the lesser of the evils and which hens suffer more.
The idea at the basis of the animal rights ideology is a desire to protect and take care of the interests of animals. This is an idea whose core is to protect the weak and the helpless in our society, those weak and helpless who have needs and feelings and can feel pain and suffering.
Someone who cares about animals cares about their welfare. When one adopts a cat or dog, the idea behind the decision should be to give an animal a warm, loving home. If one adopts a dog but leaves him chained in the yard all his life, this is not considered 'taking care' of the animal. If one buys a parrot and puts it in a cage in his house in order to amuse him or her, this is not called helping or protecting animals. It's called exploiting them for our use. It's to ignore their needs and wants and to coerce them to do things against their will to derive pleasure and amusement from them.
On the other hand, it is considered helpful if one adopts a dog from a shelter and gives him a life of love, without confinement. Finding a porcupine in the street and returning it to its natural habitat is considered an implementation of animal rights. To understand that animals are entities in and of themselves, that they are eligible to live their life as they want to, in the fashion that they enjoy, and not as we would have them live, subject to our amusement or confinement - that is what animal rights are about.
One who buys free-range eggs is someone who is willing to accept - and financially support - causing suffering to a living animal. People think that by buying free-range eggs they are "respecting the rights of the hens".
Where are the rights of millions of chicks that are thrown to the garbage?
Where are the rights of hens whose beaks are seared off?
Where are the rights of hens to be free and not in a confined area?
Where are the rights of hens whose internal organs are falling out as a result of daily laying?
Where are the rights of hens who are injured, bleeding, and limping?
Where are the rights of hens when people compromise on prosper at their expense?
There are people who understand the magnitude of the suffering of animals in the food industry, but who are still willing to compromise at the expense of these animals and the only changes that they are willing to agree to are welfare ones. In other words, they compromise at the expense of animals by removing a little bit of their suffering instead of realizing that every living creature deserves to be free - irrelevant of the exploitation he experiences.
Would you support a movement for the good of African Americans in America at the time when they were slaves - a movement whose purpose was to pass fair, socialist laws but that was in favor of continuing the slavery?
Would you be in favor of a limited number of hours of work per day for these workers?
Would you be in favor of a half-hour break for each slave per day?
It's true that if we compare this to the "regular" slavery, "free-range" slavery is much better, but that's not the equation. The equation is slavery or complete freedom. Everyone wants rights for himself. We all want to live free from exploitation, oppression, discrimination, suffering, torture and murder. However, we cannot deny these rights from others. Let us not be hypocritical. If we want to continue living in a society that respects our rights to live without discrimination or suffering, we have to fight for the same rights for animals.
In our luxurious lives, full of freedom of choice, it is easy to forget these things, but we have to put ourselves in their place. It's very easy to compromise at the expense of someone else, but how would you feel if you were in their shoes? If people were compromising your freedom and suffering?
The free-range eggs industry was not meant for the well-being of the hens. It's an industry whose underlying principle is exploitation of animals. Plain and simple.
This industry was not founded for the hens' best interests or to give them a place where they can to execute their natural urges.
These free-range coops are places where hens are held captive to be exploited, in order to profit financially off their lives, and as soon as they are not financially profitable they are killed.
Despite the image that these free-range coops have gotten, it is a cruel industry, behind which there is a simple principle: Exploitation of hens. Without mercy, without sympathy. And as soon as they are not productively efficient to kill them and replace them with new "workers".
It's irrelevant if the conditions in these coops are better than the regular conditions that hens lay under. It's obviously preferable, but not relevant. It's an attempt to find a cosmetic solution that doesn't help the hens that has no connection to animal rights because its goal is not completely doing away with animal exploitation, rather implementing a more "humane" form of exploitation. The question is not whether if a small cage or a big cage is better, the question is whether confinement or freedom. What drives the industry is chasing after financial profit and when one buys free-range eggs he supports a violent industry that ensures that animal cruelty continues. Attempts to cosmetic solutions subject to causing suffering and affliction to others are just an excuse to stubbornly continue old nutrition habits, not a step towards freeing animals.