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

This is a continuation of our three-part series discussing the battle between “specialty eggs” or the cage-free and free-range eggs and the “conventional eggs” or the eggs from hens confined in battery cages.

In 2010, Cody Carlson worked at two industrial egg farms in Iowa, covertly documenting the inhumane practices employed in egg production as an undercover investigator. He and his co-workers would walk down vast rows of battery cages looking for mummified bird corpses stuck to the floors. The cages were about the size of a microwave, with seven to 10 hens crammed into each one. The floors were made of an abrasive wire mesh, so when birds died — often from thirst or starvation after their confinement had debilitated their muscles and bones, rendering them paralyzed — the live hens would stand on top of the decaying carcasses to give their feet some relief. Workers like Carlson were responsible for removing the trampled carcasses.

“We called it ‘pulling carpets,’” he said.

“It was common at the places I worked to find hens whose wings, legs, necks, and prolapsed ova became caught in the wires, condemning them to excruciating, prolonged deaths by dehydration or trampling by their cage-mates,” Carlson said. The “ova” that he refers to is the chicken equivalent of a uterus, which commonly prolapses because they are bred to produce so many eggs. “When I pointed this out to my supervisor and offered to help untangle some of the hens, I was told this wasn’t our job and should wait until they died to remove them,” Carlson added.

The cages Carlson worked among were stacked 12 feet high and extended for 200 yards. The hens were so tightly packed that each one had less floor space than the surface of an iPad upon which to spend her entire life. They couldn’t spread their wings, and by the time they were a year old, “they are raw and featherless from rubbing up against each other and the cage wires,” Carlson noted. He added:

With nothing to do all day, the birds would naturally begin pecking each other out of boredom. Rather than alleviate their stress by giving them more space, the industry’s response is to “debeak” them, painfully severing the ends of their beaks (which are filled with nerve endings) with a hot iron. With this procedure, they still go mad from mental and physical deprivation, but lack the ability to act out.

Because male chickens don’t lay eggs and aren’t bred to grow as fast as broiler hens, they are useless to the industry. Typically, they are tossed into a machine that grinds them alive or are tossed into a large plastic bag where they are left to suffocate.

The two facilities Carlson worked in were not marginal, fly-by-night operations; they were owned by two of the biggest egg producers in the country. The conditions he witnessed on a daily basis are typical of the industry.

It would be a challenge to purposely design torture methods that would inflict more pain and suffering on hens than those used at the largest industrial egg factories in the U.S. This has been one of the most challenging issues of animal cruelty to arouse public concern, because chickens are commonly perceived to be less intelligent and less emotionally complex than dogs, pigs, or even cows, making it somehow more morally justified, or at least less personally painful, to inflict excruciating pain on them for life. Precisely for that reason, the standard practices at egg farms are among the most savage and torturous in the animal farm industry.

One undercover video produced by Mercy for Animals revealed such shocking images that the company, Eggland’s Best, announced it was “setting a goal of working with our suppliers and customers to transition to 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2025,” and claimed it “has been at the forefront of egg industry best practices in a number of areas, including food safety, bird health, animal welfare, and 3rd party audit requirements.”

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