Good eggs use cage-free hens

June 04, 2006|By PAUL SHAPIRO

After the tradition of dyeing and hiding Easter eggs is shelved for another year, demand for eggs inevitably declines, leaving producers with a surplus. To ease the financial burden of the annual fall in egg consumption, the American Egg Board declares May as "National Egg Month" and attempts to woo food editors and morning talk shows into featuring eggs. One thing the egg industry likely won't trot out in its PR efforts is it poor record on animal welfare.

While many of us harbor idyllic images of Old MacDonald's farm when we think about where eggs come from, unfortunately, that image couldn't be further from the truth. Approximately 95 percent of the eggs produced in the United States come from factory farms confining hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of laying hens in cages so small they can barely move.

Arguably the most abused animals in all of U.S. agribusiness, nearly 300 million egg-laying hens live in barren, wire "battery cages" so restrictive that the birds can't even spread their wings. Each bird is given less space than a sheet of letter-sized paper. With no opportunity to engage in many natural behaviors, including nesting, dust bathing, perching and walking, these birds endure lives wrought with suffering.


Dr. Bernard Rollin of the Department of Animal Science at Colorado State University states that "virtually all aspects of hen behavior are thwarted by battery cages. The most obvious problem is lack of exercise and natural movement ... Research has confirmed what common sense already knew - animals built to move must move."

Not only are these birds abused in ways that would result in criminal prosecution were they dogs or cats rather than hens, they also have almost no legal protection from cruelty. No federal laws regulate the treatment of hens on egg factory farms. And most states' cruelty codes exempt common agricultural practices, no matter how abusive.

This isn't the case in Europe, where battery cages are already being phased out in many countries, including Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. By 2012, conventional battery cages will no longer be allowed throughout the entire European Union.

The good news for U.S. laying hens is that there is now a growing number of socially responsible companies and institutions moving away from supporting cruel battery cages.

Nearly 90 schools have enacted policies to eliminate or greatly decrease their use of eggs from caged hens, including Dartmouth, University of Connecticut, University of Iowa, Tufts University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Georgetown University. And natural grocery chains such as Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, Jimbo's Naturally and Earth Fare now all refuse to sell battery-cage eggs.

Trader Joe's recently converted all of its brand eggs to cage-free. And food service provider Bon Appetite is also phasing in cage-free shell eggs for all of its 400 cafs that serve major corporate clients such as Oracle Corporation, Cisco Systems, Adidas, Best Buy, and Nordstrom.

The most recent participant on the anti-battery cage bandwagon is AOL, with its new policy to switch to cage-free eggs in its employee cafeterias.

What does this all mean? Quite simply: Battery cages are too cruel and inhumane for any socially responsible company or school to support.

In honor of "National Egg Month," egg producers would be wise to accelerate this trend and retire their battery cages to make way for cage-free hens. These birds' lives will be much better than those that would have suffered from permanent immobilization in their barren cages.

It's hard to imagine a better way for the egg industry to celebrate this month it has dedicated to itself.

Paul Shapiro is the director of the Factory Farming Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States. His e-mail address is

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