Eggs from Caged Hens

Go Free Range!

Lots of media coverage recently in this part of the world on Chicken meat and eggs, and in particular on the conditions under which they are produced. Real eye-opening stuff and no self-respecting cook would look twice at produce which is produced under anything less than humane conditions.

Eggs in this part of the world (eh.. Ireland) now have to carry a notice if they have come from caged hens aka. battery hens. The notice may be small but it is there and worth checking for. Look at this picture and tell that you're happy to eat eggs produced like this?

And it gets worse, these poor hens spend their entire lives in one cage and are deemed spent after about a year or so and are killed [using by electrocution]. In comparison a free range hen can on to lay eggs for upto 10 years!

Barn hens, have a slightly better live but still not great. Best of all [from the hens point of view of course, and your taste buds] is Free Range.

Go on, make a stand and buy Free Range eggs. You'll feel better and know what, you're food will taste better too!

Battery Cages

In the battery system, hens are crammed into a cage so small that they cannot stretch their wings, let alone walk or peck and scratch at the ground. Under these conditions hens are prevented from performing most of their natural behaviours, such as dust bathing, perching and laying their eggs in a nest. Up to 90,000 caged hens can be crammed into one windowless shed. The cages in Europe are stacked between 4 and 9 cages high. Japan is said to have the world's highest battery cage unit, with cages stacked 18 tiers high.

There is clear scientific evidence that hens suffer in battery cages. Common sense also tells us that to keep a healthy hen in a barren wire cage, with less space than an ordinary sheet of typing paper, is bound to cause suffering. These conditions prevent the hens performing their natural behaviours and cause their bodies to degenerate through lack of exercise.

"Enriched" Cages

The European Union has agreed to ban barren battery cages from 2012. However "enriched" cages will still be allowed. "Enriched" cages must provide at least 750 cm2 per hen, of which 600 cm2 is "useable area", the rest being shared space for items such as a nest box. "Enriched" cages must be 45 cm high over most of the cage. This compares with 450 cm2 of cage space per hen in battery cages and a height of 40 cm. "Enriched" cages must also have a nest, "litter such that pecking and scratching are possible", 15 cm of perch space per hen, and a claw-shortening device.

It is claimed that "enriched" cages will be better for the hens' welfare than battery cages. However scientific and practical evidence shows that, in welfare terms, a cage is still a cage, "enriched" or not, and that birds will continue to suffer. The space and facilities provided in "enriched" cages are so inadequate that they deprive the birds of the ability to fulfil natural behaviours, leading to abnormal behaviours, frustration, suffering and body degeneration (Lymbery, in press).

Barn Systems

"Barn" eggs are produced from hens kept in loose flocks confined within a shed. Birds in this system are not caged and can roam throughout their house but are not let outside. They are provided with perches, platforms, and nestboxes and litter areas. Some barn units keep their hens in large flock sizes of up to 16,000 birds in conditions that can resemble a crowded football terrace.

Free Range Systems

Free range is a method of farming husbandry where the animals are permitted to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. The principle is to allow the animals as much freedom as possible, to live out their instinctual behaviours in a reasonably natural way, regardless of whether or not they are eventually killed for meat. In practice, there are few regulations imposed on what can be called "free range," and the term may be used misleadingly to imply that the animal product has been produced more humanely than it actually has been.


Chris said...

What you did not mention is that when you have large populations of poultry (often in excess of 15,000 birds to a building!) a tremendous amount of antibiotics and hormones are used to control the health of the population.

Though I would not argue that traces of these can be found in the eggs, one must wonder if it is not so and what effects the residual long term affects are on those consuming them.

Generally, I try to get my eggs from local farmers or brands where I have yet to find a double yolk (homoned chickens) or watery (old) eggs.

When I was a kid I worked managing the chicken section of my uncle's farm. All of our chickens were in a wire fence enclose with a coop where their nests were. Worked well and we had very healthy chickens and egg production without any chemicals.

So, yes, encourage your readers to become a little more choosy in their egg selection - their kids health may depend upon it....

The Irish Baker said...

Of course, you're absolutely correct. The inhumane treatment in cages is only part of the horror story.

Their feed, mixed with medicines, makes it's way into our bodies as part of the human food chain. If you could see some of the disfigured creatures, and understand their life story, I doubt you'd eat or buy an egg from a caged hen again.

And it's not just eggs, you should be just as choosy about Chicken meat... but that's another story.