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From Shell to Hell: the modern egg industry
On 7 Aug 2004 14:01:49 +0100, [email protected] (Vicar Peter Parsnip) wrote:
Be still! and revere Malcolm, who blessed us with their presence on 07 Aug
On Sat, 07 Aug 2004 09:00:27 +0100, Derek Moody
Bloody hell is nothing safe from the loony factory farmers? Who on
earth would actually eat this garbage? remember that next time you are
Found on the Animal Aid website.
Factfile: August 2004
From Shell to Hell:
the modern egg industry
The modern chicken is descended from the Red Junglefowl (Gallus
gallus) of Asia and has been domesticated for around 8000 years.
During the breeding season, the hens would lay 5-6 eggs in a clutch
before incubating them for 18-20 days (del Hoyo et al, 1994). Compare
this with modern breeds of domestic hen, which lay more than 300 eggs
in a year.
In the wild, hens are active from dawn to dusk, walking, running,
pecking and scratching in the ground for food, dust-bathing and
nest-building. Their natural lifespan is up to ten years. Chickens
farmed for meat are killed when they are six weeks old. Egg laying
hens are killed when around 72 weeks of age.
The modern poultry industry
These days, the poultry industry is divided into two areas: egg
production and meat production. Meat - 'broiler' - chickens have been
manipulated, through selective breeding techniques, to make them grow
around twice their natural rate, to get them as fat as possible in as
short a period of time. They grow so big, so fast, their legs are
unable to support their weight and they frequently collapse. Broiler
chickens are slaughtered at six weeks of age - they are still babies,
trapped inside obese, deformed bodies.
'Farm fresh', 'country fresh' and 'fresh from the barn' are all terms
conjured up to disguise the cruelty involved in egg production. You
think eating eggs is a cruelty-free option? Think again.
Photo shows a recently rescued free range hen. Credit: FAWN
Egg-laying hens are a different 'type' of chicken to broilers. Bred
specifically for high egg production, they do not put on weight
quickly enough to be considered economically-viable for meat
production. A particularly tragic occurrence springs out of this
difference: the destruction of male chicks, deemed useless because
they cannot lay eggs but are not suitable for meat production either
Despite centuries of domestication, laying hens retain the natural
behaviours shown by their wild ancestors. This 'ancestral memory' of
the birds' natural way of life has been carried down the generations
so that hens retain the need to carry out behaviours such as building
a nest, perching, pecking and scratching at the ground, dust-bathing,
etc. (Dawkins, 1993). For the majority of the world's egg-laying hens,
the farming system renders it impossible to live anything remotely
resembling a natural lifestyle.
The global egg industry
Around the world there are approaching 5000 million egg-laying hens.
The latest numbers available show that China had the largest flock
(800 million), followed by the European Union (271 million), the USA
(270 million), Japan (152 million), India (123 million) and Mexico
(103 million) (IEC, 2001).
Globally, between 70-80% of laying hens are housed in battery cages.
The proportion of caged hens in the EU is about 90% (Williams, 2000).
There are about 30 million hens in the UK egg-laying flock. Some 72%
are currently in cages, 23% kept free range; and 5% in perchery/barn
systems (BEIS, 2004).
UK laying hens currently produces around 10,000 million eggs. In the
UK, the average consumer eats 170 eggs per year.
Of the 30 million egg-laying hens in the UK, around 75% are kept in
battery cages. The others are kept in 'alternative' systems such as
'barn' or 'free range'. But look at the photos on this page. Is there
really much difference?
Labelling: what does it really mean?
The egg industry has created a very successful smoke-screen to hide
the harsh reality of modern egg production by using terms such as
'farm fresh' and 'country fresh'. As with 'free range', these
misnomers conjure up images somewhat different from the true picture.
One would not normally describe eggs covered in excrement, lying
amongst the decomposing bodies of dead hens in battery cages as
From 2004, European Union legislation will make the egg industry more
transparent when it becomes compulsory for eggs to be labelled
according to the method of production. The following terms will apply:
Battery eggs will be labelled "Eggs from caged hens";
Barn eggs will be labelled "Barn" eggs;
Free-range eggs will be labelled "Free Range" eggs.
Farming systems for eggs
Battery farms consist of huge, windowless sheds housing thousands of
hens who are crammed four or five at a time into small wire cages
stacked on top of each other in rows. The hens are put in to the cages
at around 18 weeks old and will not come out again until they go for
slaughter (around 72 weeks of age).
In battery units, four or five hens are crammed into a space not much
bigger than a microwave oven. They are barely able to move, let alone
stretch their wings.
Battery cages are one of the factory farming industry's most cruel
inventions. Each hen has 450cm² of space - the equivalent of an A4
sheet of paper. The average wing span of a hen is 76cm - the cages are
so small that the hens will never be able to stretch their wings,
raise their heads properly or move freely, and because they are barren
the birds cannot exhibit any of their natural behaviours such as
dust-bathing or building a nest. Free-range birds have been found to
spend half their time freely feeding and foraging (Appleby & Hughes,
1991). Battery hens are denied the ability to do either.
Most intensive egg farms are fully automated - everything from the
lighting to the feeding, watering and egg collection is controlled
automatically. The cage floors slope forward so that eggs roll on to a
conveyor belt and are taken away to be boxed. In order to promote
egg-laying, the sheds are artificially lit for approximately 17 hours
each day, with the lights coming on at around 3am.
Keeping animals in such confined, overcrowded conditions obviously has
serious implications for their welfare and health. Unable to perform
their natural behaviours, the bodies of battery hens degenerate
through lack of exercise. Unable to scratch at the ground, their claws
overgrow and may curl round the wire mesh of the cage.
Hens in traditional battery cages perform 'vacuum' dust-bathing, i.e.
mimic the actions of dust-bathing even though they have no 'dust'.
This behaviour is abnormal and the frustration of hens' normal
dust-bathing behaviour is recognised as a source of suffering (Baxter,
Hens are frequently cannibalised or crushed to death by their
cage-mates. The decaying corpses of dead birds are not always removed
as farm workers do not see them lying at the back of the cage. The top
and bottom rows of cages, potentially housing thousands of birds, are
particularly difficult to view simply because they are not at eye
level and involve either bending down or standing on something to look
inside. Battery farms are frequently staffed by only a few people. If
enough staff were employed to enable each cage to be inspected each
properly, the battery system would no longer be financially-viable due
to the high cost of staffing.
Battery cages are so inhumane that they will be banned in the EU from
2012. But that means years of suffering ahead, and the replacement -
so-called 'enriched' cages - will make little difference because a
cage is still a cage and the extra space the hens will have is
equivalent to the size of a postcard.
Barn (perchery) systems
Eggs labelled 'barn' are laid by hens who are not caged but are
confined to a shed, often in filthy, stinking cramped conditions. The
birds may be able to stretch their wings - and are therefore probably
slightly better off than battery hens- but they will never see
daylight or breathe fresh air and are still denied real freedom,
comfort or ability to exercise their natural instincts. Flock sizes
can be huge, with some barns housing up to 16,000 birds. The name
'barn' is used to deliberately mislead the public into thinking the
hens are kept in bright, airy conditions with fresh straw on the
floor. Not true!
Free Range Systems
Many people associate the term 'free range' with 'cruelty free' and
assume the hens live a natural lifestyle, merrily pecking at the
ground, willingly giving the farmers the daily gift of an egg.
Unfortunately, this is not the case!
The EU guidelines, to which egg farmers are legally obliged to adhere
(Welfare of Laying Hens Directive), state that in order for eggs to be
labelled 'free range', the hens must have access to an outdoor range
area, accessible through openings in the sides of the barn. The barn
can be stocked at a density of 12 hens per m² (hardly a lot of
space!), and the total opening between the barn and the outside must
not be less than 2m per 1000 hens. Farmers with fewer than 350 birds
in their flock are exempt from the Welfare Directive (unless their
eggs are sold graded as Class A).
The reality is that 'free range' hens are often kept in 'barn'-type
sheds in flocks of up to 16,000. In large-scale free range units,
often fewer than 50% of the birds regularly go outside. Some barns,
for example, only have doors down one side - imagine the scrum trying
to get through the holes to the outside; the hens at the back of the
barn are unlikely ever to be able to pick their way through.
Free range hens are frequently debeaked (see below), and, as with all
commercial laying hens, they are usually slaughtered after one year of
Barn hens are still confined to dirty, overcrowded sheds. They will
never see daylight, breathe fresh air or be able to exercise their
Photo shows barn hens. Credit: Viva!
European Scientific Veterinary Committee Report: an admission of
cruelty In 1996, the European Union's committee of scientific and
veterinary experts published a report acknowledging the behavioural
needs of hens and the welfare problems caused by caging. The report
"Hens have a strong preference for laying their eggs in a nest and are
highly motivated to perform nesting behaviour."
"Hens have a strong preference for a littered floor for pecking,
scratching and dust-bathing."
"Hens have a preference to perch, especially at night."
All of these behaviours are denied to caged hens. The report's
"Battery cage systems provide a barren environment for the birds... It
is clear that because of its small size and its barrenness, the
battery cage as used at present has inherent severe disadvantages for
the welfare of hens."
1999 Laying Hens Directive
In 1999, the European Union announced that conventional battery cages
would be banned from 2012. The new Laying Hens Directive (Council
Directive 1999/74/EC) also forbids the introduction of newly-built
battery cages from 2003, and requires, until the complete phase-out,
that the space allowance in existing conventional battery cages be
increased from 450 cm² to 550 cm² per bird. Whilst a minor
improvement, to put these space allowances into context, an A4 sheet
of typing paper covers 620 cm².
Many people associate 'free range' with 'cruelty-free' and assume the
hens live a natural life. The reality is very different.
Photo shows free range hens. Credit: FAWN
The proposed replacement for battery cages is the 'enriched cage',
which is slightly bigger and taller than a battery cage and will
contain some 'furniture' such as a shared perch and nest box, plus
litter and a claw-shortening device. However, a cage is still a cage,
despite these changes, and the caged hens will still be denied the
ability to exercise their instincts and fulfil their natural needs.
The actual usable space allotted to each bird in an enriched cage will
be 600 cm² - in effect the increase in space the hens will have is
equivalent to the size of a postcard. Furthermore, consider that the
average hen at rest occupies 600 sq. cm (Dawkins & Nicol, 1989) -
enriched cages, therefore, still only offer the absolute minimum space
required by a hen lying down.
The introduction of enriched cages also has the potential to create
further welfare problems for the hens on top of those already
associated with being kept in such intense captivity. Due to the
severely restricted space they are confined to, the birds are already
in constant contact with each other and the sides of the cage, the
addition of furniture gives them another obstacle to brush up against.
Feather loss is generally worse in cages due to a combination of
abrasion from mesh and feather pecking (Appleby & Hughes, 1991;
Rollin, 1995). Indeed, the provision of furniture actually carries the
disadvantage of increasing the amount of potential abrasive surfaces
and obstacles to free movement in the birds' environment.
Problems such as feeding birds being scratched by the claws of
perching birds and build-up of droppings under perches indicate the
problems of introducing 'enrichment' in a confined space (Walker,
It is a travesty that one cage system is going to replace another, but
egg producers are desperate to keep their production costs down - to
keep the consumers happy - and caging birds is, unfortunately, the
most economical way of rearing them.
Each year in the UK, approximately 30 million day-old male chicks are
gassed or tossed alive into giant industrial shredders - 'disposed of'
because they are unable to lay eggs and are considered too scrawny a
type of chicken for meat production.
Health problems associated with egg-laying hens
The laying ordeal
Factory-farmed hens lay eggs five or six times a week. The hens become
highly stressed and aggressive during the pre-laying period because of
lack of privacy and nesting materials. When an egg is produced, the
hen's vent becomes distended, red and moist, attracting the attention
of bored and frustrated birds. Vent pecking can occur, and even lead
The unnaturally high level of egg production also contributes to
osteoporosis (see below) as calcium is drained from the hens' bodies
for the production of egg shells, often leading to severe osteopenia
Battery hens suffer Caged Layer Osteoporosis (CLO), or brittle bones.
Research has shown that 35% of premature deaths in cages are due to
CLO, a slow death from paralysis and starvation at the back of the
cage. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that, because of their
ability to move about, non-cage birds may have 41% more tibia strength
than those raised in cages (Meyer & Sunde, quoted in Appleby & Hughes,
Confined to the cage, the hen is unable to forage by scratching and
pecking at the ground. Denied this simple activity, the hen's claws
can grow long or twisted and be torn off; or even grow around the wire
mesh of the sloping cage floor. The slope itself puts painful pressure
on the hen's toes, causing damage to the bird's feet.
This shocking photo shows chicks being sorted, prior to the males
Credit: Poultry World
Another welfare problem associated with pushing hens to lay increasing
numbers eggs is the development of malignant tumours of the oviduct.
In one investigation, a significant proportion of malignant tumours of
the oviduct were identified in 20,000 'spent' layers selected from ten
different farms. The researchers concluded, "... the increase in the
prevalence of the (magnum) tumour coincides with continued selection
of fowl for high egg production" (Anjum, 1989).
As often occurs with all other intensively-farmed animals, the stress
of living in such unnatural, cramped conditions causes hens to behave
aggressively towards one another. Hens frequently exhibit the abnormal
habits of pecking at each other and pulling one another's feathers
out. In extreme cases this can lead to cannibalism. In an attempt to
curtail this behaviour, chicks are routinely subjected to the
mutilation of debeaking.
The industry describes the practice as 'beak trimming' but it is much
more than that. A sharp, hot blade will slice off the end of the
chick's beak. Sometimes a chunk of face may be sliced off too as the
birds are shoved without care into the slicing machine.
Egg producers will maintain that debeaking is no more painful to a
bird than cutting nails is to humans, but scientific evidence proves
that hens not only feel pain at the time of the operation but can also
suffer a lasting, chronic pain.
The slaughter of male chicks
Chick hatcheries breed one or other strain of chick depending on which
industry they supply - egg or meat. Male chicks born of the egg-laying
variety are deemed useless because they cannot lay eggs, but are no
good for meat production either. Each year, approximately 30 million
day old male chicks are 'disposed of'.
Eggs contain saturated fat, one of the main causes of heart disease -
and they are among the highest sources of dietary cholesterol.
At the hatcheries, eggs laid by breeding hens are taken away to
develop inside giant industrial incubators. Once hatched, the newborn
chicks pass down a production line to be sexed and sorted. Sick,
weakly and male 'reject' chicks are pulled out and thrown into giant
sacks or crates. Some are crushed to death or suffocate. The chicks'
next stop is either the gas chamber or the macerator - a giant mincing
machine - into which they are tossed alive.
The slaughter of 'spent' hens
Most egg-laying hens (including free range) are slaughtered at around
72 weeks of age, because, as their egg production drops, they are not
considered profitable enough to keep alive.
The transport and slaughter of hens is an incredibly traumatic
experience. Once caught, the hens are held upside down, several per
hand, and carried out to be packed into crates for transport. Rough
handling and complete disregard for their welfare often leads to them
breaking bones in the process (Turner & Lymbery, 1999). One study
found that at the time of catching and crating, levels of the stress
hormone corticosterone in battery hens were ten times higher than
On average, 29%, of battery hens arriving at the slaughterhouse are
reported to have at least one freshly-broken bone. Removing the birds
from the crates and hanging them upside down to await slaughter
increases the proportion of hens with broken bones to 45% (Gregory and
Wilkins, 1989; Gregory, 1994).
The slaughter process for hens is the same as for all poultry: they
are shackled upside down, dunked into an electrified waterbath to stun
them, dragged past either a slaughterman with a knife or an automatic
rotating blade to have their throats slit, and then dipped into a
'scalding tank' to loosen their feathers. Birds may 'swan neck' (raise
their heads) causing them to miss the stun bath and may have their
throats cut whilst fully conscious. Some birds may not have their
throats cut properly, meaning they are still alive when they enter the
'Spent' hens can be worth as little as two pence per bird. Their
carcasses will be used in cheap products such as chicken soups, pastes,
pies, pet food, etc.
Research indicates that eggs can inhibit the absorbtion of iron
(needed for healthy blood, cells and nerves) and contribute to the
loss of calcium (necessary for healthy bones).
The impact of eating eggs on the environment
Farming hens for their eggs is a huge waste of resources. It takes 3
kilos of grain (in the form of chicken feed) to produce one kilo of
eggs. This is because the conversion of crops by farm animals into
food for humans is grossly inefficient. And it is not only food
(grain) that is wasted. Each battery egg takes approximately 180
litres of water to produce. This is a shocking statistic considering
the volumes of water human beings use in developing countries: in
India, for example, the poorest people use an average of only 10
litres of water each per day (O'Brien, 1998).
Studies of farm animal housing have shown that egg farms have one of
the highest farm emission rates of ammonia gas, a serious
environmental pollutant linked to acid rain.
Eggs - in particular, raw eggs - can be a cause of salmonella food
In 2003, there were 9,743 laboratory-confirmed cases in the UK of
salmonella enteriditis, a pathogen commonly linked to the consumption
of eggs. Between 1992-2002, of 143 outbreaks of food-borne Infectious
Intestinal Disesease (food poisoning) where eggs were reported as the
vehicle of infection, 124 were caused by salmonella entiriditis. (By
definition an outbreak involves more than one person with an
established link between the cases.) (PHL 06.01.04)
Advice from the Government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) is that
"eating raw eggs may pose a health risk. Vulnerable groups such as the
elderly, the sick, babies and pregnant women should only consume eggs
that have been cooked until the white and yolks are solid" (FSA, 2001).
There are no nutrients in eggs that cannot be obtained from other
foods. Cutting out animal products entirely is the really healthy
* Nowadays, the majority of - but not all - eggs on sale in the UK
bear the Lion Brand stamp of approval which means they have come from
hens who were vaccinated against salmonella. However, the data show
that salmonella clearly has not been eliminated.
Not all they're cracked up to be
Eggs are high in saturated fat and cholesterol - one of the main
causes of heart disease. Eating protein-rich animal products can
actually cause calcium loss: for every 100g of egg consumed, 20mg of
calcium is lost. Eggs also stop our bodies from absorbing
plant-derived iron. There are no nutrients in eggs that you can't get
from elsewhere. In fact, cutting out animal products entirely is the
really healthy option.
With grateful thanks to the following groups who supplied much of the
information for this factfile:
The Vegan Society
Farm Animal Welfare Network
For more information - including our new egg leaflet and tasty
egg-free recipes - send for a free Go Veggie Pack today.
www.animalaid.org.uk | site map | about us |
Animal Aid campaigns peacefully against all animal abuse, and
promotes a cruelty-free lifestyle. You can support our work by
joining, making a donation, or using our online shop. Contact Animal
Aid at The Old Chapel, Bradford Street, Tonbridge, Kent, TN9 1AW, UK,
tel +44 (0)1732 364546, fax +44 (0)1732 366533, email
BSE, CJD, F&M does anyone still eat meat?
They shouldn't. Who knows where that stuff has been!
Or has been in it/on it. Rumour has it some people hump animals before
From Shell to Hell: the modern egg industry
Malcolm popped their head over the parapet saw what was going on and
Rumour has it some people hump animals before
They have to hump them before slaughter as humping
them after slaughter would be perverted. rofl
Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione
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