The Truth Behind the Egg Industry
Life in confinement
The same day these chicks hatch, they are sorted by sex and every male chick is sent to be killed. Since they can’t lay eggs, they are of no use to the egg industry. Male chicks are considered a waste product, simply because they are male…
Each female chick is sold on, arriving at a stark building where she will be confined to a metal cage the size of an A4 sheet of paper. She spends her entire life with two or three other chickens, in an area so small that it’s impossible to walk, fly, stretch her wings, or even stand up comfortably. They live here, day and night, hunched on metal grilles in metal cages.
Chickens have a strong natural instinct to peck the soil and use their beaks to explore. But all a hen has to peck at in a battery cage is her neighbors. Suffering from extreme stress and boredom, egg-laying chickens develop aggressive behavior. Instead of giving them more space, the industry’s solution is to simply cut a third of their beaks off with a hot blade. Despite the industry’s claims that this is a painless procedure, they are cutting into tissue that contains many nerves and blood vessels. The chickens experience intense pain and vomiting, and refrain from eating for days. Debeaking can even cause long-term difficulties with eating and cleaning.
A wild chicken lays about 12 eggs a year. But due to genetic distortion and light manipulation, a chicken in the egg industry today lays about 300 eggs a year. That’s 25 times more.
Laying an egg every day takes a heavy toll on her body. Damage is caused internally, leading to wounded and prolapsed tissue around where she lays eggs. The blood is cleaned from eggs before they are sold. Her bones deteriorate and break from calcium deficiency, as calcium is constantly invested in eggshells.
After a year in the cage, when she starts to lay fewer eggs, she will be starved for two weeks to shock her system into producing more. After another two years, her production will drop again and she will have reached total exhaustion.
Egg-laying chickens are exploited until they are utterly worn out. Their bodies are too broken even to be slaughtered for food. Finally free from the coop where they have spent their life confined, they are hung upside down on a conveyor belt and killed by electrocution.
Why kill the male chicks and not sell them to the poultry industry?
In the mid-twentieth century, egg and poultry production separated into two different industries, each of which “genetically improved” their respective chicken breeds. The chickens who grew fast and had a larger breast went to the meat industry, and those who laid many large eggs to the egg industry. As the lucrative parts of chickens have been inflated to such a disproportionate size as to cause health problems and suffering, this “genetic improvement” constitutes damaging genetic distortion.
All chicks who hatch into the egg industry now belong to “laying” breeds, which have been genetically distorted for increased laying. As we’ve seen, this takes an enormous toll on egg-laying hens.
But chickens of this breed aren’t financially useful to the chicken meat industry because they have not been optimised for slaughter. In fact, the chicks purchased by the poultry industry are one of their smallest expenses (compared to food, electricity, land, antibiotics, workforce, and so on). The industry isn’t willing to pay for a chick who hasn’t been genetically distorted for the fastest growth possible.
What about free-range or organic eggs?
In free-range facilities the chickens are not confined to cages, but live in huge barns and can sometimes roam around. These eggs are presented as a humane alternative. Chickens can peck and scratch in the dirt, stretch their wings, walk and fly.
However, in almost all other respects the free-range and organic egg industries are actually identical to their competitor. The chickens come from the same hatcheries where all their male siblings are destroyed. They suffer from the same genetic distortion and the same extreme drain on their bodies as a result of excessive egg laying. Their beaks are still cut, and they are still killed when they begin to lay eggs at a decreased rate. For a more detailed comparison of the conditions behind different types of eggs, click here.
Why not give chickens more living space?
Industrial chicken farms are money-making businesses. As such, the aim is to maximise profit and keep costs low. So they cram as many sentient chickens as possible into as small a space as possible, feed them as little as possible, and chickens are only kept alive if they are producing eggs. The needs of the chickens do not in any way enter into profitability calculations.
A chicken in the egg industry cannot forage, scratch in the dirt or dust-bathe. But this doesn’t affect profitability. As long as the frustration at not being able to display natural behaviors doesn’t decrease egg production, it doesn’t concern the industry. The rapid and total deterioration of a chicken’s body also isn’t considered a problem, as they are quickly and inexpensively replaced when they are finally ‘spent’.
Why is the floor of the cage a sloping metal grille?
The battery cage floor is made of sloping wire mesh. This allows excrement to fall through and build up underneath, meaning that cages never have to be cleaned. The floor is sloped so that the egg rolls away to be collected – away from the chicken who laid it and has an instinct to incubate it. Constantly standing on this sloping mesh causes severe distress to the hen – in nature she would be walking and foraging in the earth and roosting on a branch.
How does starving chickens cause intensive egg laying to restart?
Chickens naturally replace their feathers every year, in a process lasting several months. During this time a chicken’s reproductive system naturally regenerates – and they won’t lay any eggs at all. The industry has found a way to shock chickens into laying again by radically accelerating this process: the facility is darkened and the chickens are starved for two weeks. For the following month they are kept on the verge of starvation. Of course, the egg industry also saves money on the cost of food and electricity during this time. Learn more about how starvation is used in the industry here.
What is genetic distortion and how does it cause a chicken to lay more eggs?
What the agricultural industry terms “genetic improvement” actually amounts to genetic distortion. The term “improvement” makes sense when dealing with oranges or wheat, but becomes much more problematic when applied to living, sentient beings. This is because it is carried out at the expense of an animals’ health and well-being, causing them more and more pain, disability and illness. It is the embodiment of profitability over welfare.
The premise is artificial selection (selective breeding over many generations), which, like natural selection, is capable of creating creatures with very different characteristics to the animals they evolved from. Natural selection, however, operates over vast spans of time, benefiting animals by increasing immunity to disease and making them better adapted to their environment. Here, artificial selection distorts certain characteristics of animals to generate higher profits – even when it means that their own bodies will become a perpetual source of suffering and pain for them. Learn more about genetic distortion in animal agriculture here.
How are the male chicks killed?
As advised by ‘animal welfare’ regulations, hatcheries destroy male chicks by grinding or crushing them alive. In practice, quite a few chicks are also simply thrown into garbage bags, sometimes still with their eggshells, where they die slowly from starvation or suffocation. Learn more about the killing of male chicks here.
Why are these cages called battery cages?
This term doesn’t have anything to do with electricity. Cages for egg-laying chickens are organized in ‘batteries’ – long rows and columns of metal cages.
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