Whether you’re an omnivore or a vegetarian, here are 6 reasons you should stop eating eggs.
What comes to your mind when you think of eggs? A healthy and quick breakfast? An inexpensive essential on your grocery list? A natural and harmless food laid by happy hens in a chicken coop surrounded by green pasture, similar to this photo?
In 2007, 280 million hens laid 77.3 billion eggs (Humane Society of the United States). For the vast majority of chickens, 98% or more of them, what this photo depicts is far from the conditions they are hatched, raised, exploited, and then slaughtered in. Don’t believe me? Here’s a closer look at standard practices in today’s egg industry.
When chicken eggs are being hatched to create more hens for egg laying, half of those eggs hatch a male chick. Since male chickens don’t lay eggs, and the variety of chickens bred for egg-laying doesn’t get big enough to be used for meat, the males are essentially useless to the industry.
7 billion day-old male chicks are culled every year (National Center for Biotechnology Information). 200 million of those are killed in the United States.
Chickens in industrial agriculture now belong to one of two strains: one bred for meat, or “broiler” chickens, the other bred for their egg-laying capacity. The egg-laying industry would lose money by raising male chicks from the egg-laying strain, since it takes food, water, and shelter to raise them, but they won’t reach broiler chicken size or weight, nor will they lay eggs.
These chicks are killed as soon as they hatch, right after they’re sexed to determine if they are male or female. This process is called “chick culling” and happens in all industrialized egg production, whether free-range, organic, or battery cage. These chicks are killed by:
- Cervical dislocation: Applying pressure to the neck and dislocating the spinal column from the skull or brain; basically breaking the neck of chicks
- Asphyxiation by carbon dioxide: Inducing unconsciousness and then death by gassing
- Suffocation: Placing chicks in plastic bags
- Maceration: Using a large high-speed grinder
- Electrocution: Electric current is passed through the chick’s body until he or she is dead
None of these techniques use anesthetics, and all of them are not only legal, but are the industry standard. Asphyxiation is the primary method in the United Kingdom (The Independent), while maceration is the primary method in the United States (The Smithsonian Magazine).
Beak or bill trimming, which was formerly known as debeaking or, in the case of ducks, debilling, is the removal of approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the upper beak or bill, or both the upper and lower beak or bill, of a bird. It is regularly performed on egg-laying hens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, guinea fowl, and even quail.
Poultry farmers trim their birds’ beaks anywhere from the day they hatch up to 10 days old to reduce and prevent pecking injuries and even pecking-induced deaths among flock mates. These pecking behaviors are common in birds confined and crowded with no outlet for their normal foraging, dust-bathing, and exploratory activities.
But according to a literature review by the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Beak trimming is acutely painful, as nociceptors (nerve cell endings that initiate the sensation of pain) are present in the tip of the beak.” There are four main methods of beak trimming, all of which are done without painkillers:
- Mechanical: Beaks are trimmed using a simple blade or scissor device such as secateurs. This method relies on human precision instead of machines, which means that unskilled, rushed, or apathetic trimmers can cause increased suffering
- Hot-Blade: Carried out with a heated blade which is often mechanized, this method causes some tissue damage near the cut edge.
- Electric: An electric current is used to damage the beak so that the tip is shed. The electrical method causes the greatest amount of tissue damage.
- Infrared: Used to damage the beak so that the tip is shed.
Poultry producers deceived the public in the past by saying that beaks are as insensitive as the tips of fingernails, but this assertion can no longer be made because decades of research have refuted it and shown that beak trimming not only causes severe pain during the procedure, but also lasting, chronic pain that inhibits the birds’ natural behaviors.
Mass Production Breeding
Whether you’re sourcing your eggs from your local, small-scale, free-range farmer or from a company that keeps their hens in factory farms, the chickens that laid those eggs have been specifically bred for mass production. Before this selective breeding process, hens naturally laid 12-24 eggs a year. A century ago, they laid about 100 per year. Layer hens now lay 300 or more eggs every year.
This takes a tremendous toll on the hen’s body. Some of the issues they can develop because of this stress include:
- Fatty Liver Syndrome: condition where the hen’s liver accumulates extra fat and becomes prone to hemorrhaging
- “Cage Layer Fatigue”: an industry term, this is when the bodies of hens grow too weak to pass eggs. They often die after becoming “egg bound.”
- Prolapsed Uteruses: This condition starts when an egg sticks to the lining of a hen’s uterus and pulls the uterus out along with it as it passes. An untreated hen may languish for days before succumbing to blood loss or infection. 3 million hens die every year from prolapsed uteruses.
- Osteoporosis: forming eggshells, especially at the rate they have been bred to lay eggs, requires more calcium than hens could ever obtain from their diets. Low calcium levels in hens can lead to broken bones, paralysis and death. (Farm Sanctuary)
Factory Farm Conditions
Whether they live in a cage-free factory farm or not, egg-laying hens spend their entire lives in giant, overcrowded warehouses. Those in battery cages, which are crammed with anywhere from five to eleven birds, cannot even fully stretch their wings. The cages giving each hen less space then the area of a sheet of letter-sized paper are stacked up on top of each other, so the waste from chickens in the top cages drops into the cages below.
Light levels and feeding are manipulated so that hens lay as many eggs as possible. “Force molting” is the process of denying hens food and starving them, from one to two weeks, to force their bodies back into higher rates of egg-laying if production declines. Sometimes this period of deprivation includes the withholding of water for prolonged amounts of time. This is a widespread practice in the United States, but is banned in the European Union.
Most layer hens are killed by the ages of two to three because they are considered “spent,” which means their egg-laying rate has dropped. But keep in mind that these hens have a natural lifespan of 15-20 years. Humans treat them as unfeeling, unaware egg-laying machines with little to no regard for their basic biological and behavioral needs. When these “machines” wear out from overuse and their productivity falls, they are thrown away like garbage.
Just like chickens raised for meat and turkeys, egg-laying hens are not required by law to be stunned before they are slaughtered. They are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act, which mandates that animals like cattle and pigs are rendered insensible to pain before being killed.
Chickens Can Feel Pain
Egg-laying hens feel pain and can suffer just like any other animal, and they are intelligent and social. When they are given the space and environment to do so, they enjoy activities like sunbathing and taking dust-baths. They can recognize up to 100 different faces. Hens also care for and protect their young and will pick out private spots to nest. Chickens have even been shown to communicate vocally with their chicks in their eggs before they hatch.