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What Could be Wrong with the Egg?

I spent years—even decades---denying to myself the occasional reports I heard about the cruelty hidden behind modern egg production.  Those reports, I thought, had to be written by extremists and crazies.  After all I’d eaten eggs all my life---scrambled, fried, poached, in omeletts, cakes, cassaroles, etc.  Eggs are a staple in American life.  So, what could be wrong with the egg?


Mary Tyler Moore provides background on this cruel industrial farming practice in a video produced by and used with permission of Farm Sanctuary.

If you’re willing to look, you’ll see that modern egg production is shockingly cruel to one of the most gentle of creatures, the laying hen, who was respected in biblical times for her courage and nurturing character.  Today, however, she’s only considered an unfeeling commodity by factory farmers who value the bottom line over the chicken’s welfare.  Here, in brief, are the facts I finally had to accept about the modern egg and the chickens who suffer to produce them:

  1. Fifty percent of all laying chickens are born male but since males can’t lay eggs they are sorted out and killed within a day of their birth, often by being suffocated or ground alive to serve as fodder for pigs.
  2. Most laying hens spend their entire lives in small cages in long metal buildings.  The cages are stacked in long rows and on top of each other so that the feces from above rains down on the chickens below.  They’re called “battery cages.”  The hens can barely turn around, never smell fresh air and never feel the sun on their backs.  This system is used throughout the United States and in Maryland.  When you drive down a country road and see a long metal building with no windows, you’re probably looking at a factory farm for chickens with misery inside.
  3. Because the chickens are raised in unnaturally crowded conditions, their beaks are routinely cut off with a hot blade so they can’t peck each other.  This is not akin to cutting your fingernails because a hen’s beak is infused with nerves.  It is extremely painful, more like cutting your cat or dog’s nails down well within the quick.
  4. Laying hens are periodically subjected to a shockingly cruel process designed to increase their egg production.  It’s called “forced molting.”  Forced molting means that all food is removed from the hens for a period of about two weeks.  This shocks their body into producing more eggs, but, as you can imagine, it is terribly cruel to the hens.
  5. Finally, after their bodies are so wasted that their egg production has waned the hens are shipped to the slaughterhouse to be used in products such as canned soup.

Here's a video of the grueling conditions at one California farm.  We have many operators employing the same,common techniques in Maryland.

Video produced by and used with permission of Farm Sanctuary.

One last point: egg producers don’t want you to know this information so their packages and advertisements are sometimes deceptive.  Don’t be fooled by notes such as “organic” (which only refers to chicken’s feed) or “certified humane” (which is often a marketing ploy that may have absolutely nothing behind it.)  Even the words “free range” can include items 1, 3 and 4 above.  Plus many facilities designated “free range” are really not free range for most of the chickens housed in these crowded, filthy factories.  And, remember, even if the hens are really free-range and really well-treated, all the male chicks were killed at the hatchery---hundreds of millions of them are killed each year in the United States alone.


Battery Cages are only one step in the institutionalized torture of hens in factory farming. To do something about it in Maryland, join Maryland Votes For Animals.


 What’s a conscientious person to do?

So what’s a person to do once she’s finally willing to admit that eggs are cruel?  Only you can answer that question for yourself.  I choose to forego eggs entirely---I use egg substitute when I’m cooking, and I stop by Whole Foods, Zu Coffee, Emily’s Café or Sticky Fingers Bakery for vegan cakes or cookies when I want something sweet.  We’re not dependent on the egg if we choose not to be. We can boycott the cruelty and still eat delicious, healthy and satisfying food.

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