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Where do your eggs come from?

Ivana Pelisek | Interrobang | News | November 10th, 2008

Hens in this country and around the world are being mistreated so we can have eggs on our plates

Imagine spending each waking moment in a tiny wire cage.

Wire cages holding hens exist and are all joined together in rows, sometimes on top of one another reaching multiple levels.

Thousands and thousands of hens are packed in a small area with each cage holding four-to-six fully-grown hens.

The floors in which the hens' cages are kept is made of wire mesh, which allows for droppings to fall through, but it does not allow for the animal to stay put as the floor is slanted to allow the eggs to slowly glide into a collection area.

The mental states and physical wellbeing of the hens are compromised while living in this environment.

“Any animal that endures incredible stress has a depressed immune system. Hens are not any different. In battery systems, most hens are regularly fed antibiotics as a preventative measure,” said Bruce Passmore, Director of Outreach Humane Society International/Canada.

According to Passmore, hens on the lower tiers in battery cage operations are often covered in feces from the hens above. Chicken feces are high in ammonia, and since hens in cages tend to have high feather loss due to rubbing on the bars of their cages, the ammonia in the feces burns the skin.

“It's no wonder that once a battery caged hen finishes her first laying cycle she is killed on farm and composted since her body is too bruised to be sold as a food item.”

Imagine spending 24-hours-a-day in this tiny area where it is impossible to allow for natural growth.

In order for the hen to get food, she is mandated to stretch her neck so far to reach the bowl, loosing feathers as this process continues.

Across Canada and internationally hens are kept in these conditions causing the animals to not be able to flap their wings or even walk freely when they need to stretch.

“Hens in the European Union will be freed from cages by 2012. Unfortunately, that law does not apply to Canada,” explained Passmore. “Canada is lagging behind on animal welfare laws and initiatives. Numerous countries around the world have banned the use of barren battery cages including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Canada still recommends hens be caged and that they are given approximately 450 square centimeters.”

Currently there are no ‘set laws” protecting the lives of hens, and until such law is implemented hens will continue to live their lives this way. Owners are free to leave them in wire cages with minimum room to move around and only produce eggs.

The laws currently set out for the well being and protection of hens clearly states that animals of such kind are in need of exercise.

According to a code that sets legal standards for animals rights', hens in groups of more than two need to be given only 450 square cm of space each, which is less than a normal sheet of paper.

In 1999, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a registered charity based in England, launched an international campaign to ban battery cages for hens across the globe. The response was not well received, as all countries had to ban the importation of battery eggs. Other states had to give their approval, which they did not. Therefore the law was not implemented.

“Two major North American grocery store chains [Capers Community Market and Whole Foods Market] have removed eggs from caged hens from their shelves. Safeway also recently announced a new policy that will encourage the egg industry to move away from confining laying hens in battery cages, while doubling its purchase of cage-free eggs in the next six years.

Even fast-food giant Burger King has begun using cage-free eggs in its North American restaurants, and this year Denny's chain of restaurants made a similar move,” said Passmore.

Colleges and Universities across the board are also taking action. The plan is simple. The director of food services at each post-secondary institution needs to be addressed in order to make changes to whom their prior suppliers of eggs were.

“Students can work with the director of food services on their campus to ensure that their campus switches to cage-free. Cage-free eggs are available to anyone, foodservices just needs to request them from their supplier,” said Passmore. “Over a dozen campuses across the country have either reduced or eliminated their use of eggs from caged hens. Over 350 campuses in the US have made similar moves.”

According to Ryan McTavish, Fanshawe Student Union Oasis Manager, a single case of eggs runs around $32.62 for caged hen eggs that the FSU currently buys from their supplier, while the cage-free option would effectively double that price.

“Switching to cage-free or free-range eggs is something we are researching for the future, which would make the cases of eggs go to $61.86,” McTavish said.

Breakfast at the Oasis currently sells for an average of $4.25 using caged hen eggs and if the switch to free-range eggs is made, the breakfast will jump to roughly $5.00, helping to off-set the cost of cage-free eggs.

By making cage-free eggs available at supermarkets and on campuses, consumers can make a conscientious choice to as to what egg product they will purchase.

Pro-Cert and Quality Assurance International (QAI) are two of Canada's most common certifying bodies, but other cage-free egg options are labelled ‘free-range' or ‘free-run.'

There are choices out there and consumers can substitute eggs for cruelty-free foods such as nuts, beans, tofu and other soy products for protein can make easy changes simple.

“Switching to cage-free is a really simple thing that each one of us can do. It's not necessarily asking you to give up anything; it's simply asking you to make a more compassionate choice,” added Passmore.

If you want further information on how you can help minimize the purchase of eggs that are from caged hens, feel free to email Bruce Passmore, Director of Outreach Humane Society International/Canada at

“Let us know that you've contacted your campus so we can help,” Passmore said.
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