‘Specialty Eggs’ vs. ‘Conventional Eggs’ (Part I)

Animal rights activists are winning the fight against egg producers that use battery cages for their egg-laying hens.

But the egg producers are trying to push back so let’s dive in to get a better of this battle. For the next three days, we will share with you a story originally posted at theintercept.com.

Over the last decade, thanks to a cascade of undercover exposés of factory farms and slaughterhouses by animal rights activists, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the horrors of industrial animal agriculture. Though it has received less attention than the systematic torture of pigs and cows, perhaps no part of animal agriculture is more heinous than egg production, an industry in which hens are confined to excruciatingly small cages for the entirety of their tortured lives. As the Humane Society put it after an extensive investigation into the indescribable cruelties of this industry, “Perhaps the most abused farm animals, nearly 280 million laying hens in the United States are confined in barren wire battery cages so restrictive the birds can’t even spread their wings.”

As consumers have awoken to the barbaric conditions of the egg industry, they have begun to turn toward incrementally more humane alternatives, such as cage-free eggs, as well as truly humane options, such as eggs from pasture-raised hens at places like Vital Farms.

The market, as they say, is speaking. As Americans become more educated about the morally repellent practices of this industry, they are increasingly refusing to reward barbaric practices by buying eggs that are the byproduct of industrial torture.

But in response, the powerful poultry industry — which long invoked principles of the “free market” to justify their torture-derived products being available to consumers — have now reversed course. With consumers choosing more humane egg products, lobbyists for the poultry industry are pushing laws that would force stores to carry their products even if doing so offends their moral sensibilities and ethical judgments.

In Iowa, the nation’s biggest egg-producing state, lawmakers, at the behest of the poultry lobby, are making their most brazen attempt yet to fight the tides of change: simply making it a legal requirement for grocery stores to carry inhumanely produced eggs. A new bill in the Iowa state legislature, overwhelmingly passed by the Iowa House of Representatives on Monday by a vote of 81-17, would force any Iowa grocery store that participates in the Women, Infants and Children federal food assistance program and sells what the bill refers to as “specialty eggs” to also stock “conventional eggs.” “Specialty eggs” are cage-free eggs, free-range eggs, or “enriched colony cage” eggs — eggs produced in larger cages with perches and other amenities in them. “Conventional eggs” are eggs from hens confined in battery cages.

The bill’s supporters frame the measure as a consumer choice issue, arguing that the most economically destitute Iowans deserve access to lower priced eggs. Animal welfare advocates view the motivation differently.

“These bills are designed to keep a dying industry afloat that consumers no longer want to support,” said Cody Carlson, an attorney at Mercy for Animals. “This is an industry that refuses to change in any meaningful way.”

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