As British Egg Week begins, the Kentish social enterprise Animal Aid, is highlighting an aspect of the industry that promotional bodies will not discuss – the suffering caused to egg-laying hens. The national campaign group is urging the public to give up eggs and ensure that they don’t contribute to the suffering.
Animal Aid is calling on the public to stop supporting this cruel industry, and eliminate eggs from their diet. An ideal way to get started is to take part in the Great Vegan Challenge, which supports people as they try a diet that is free from eggs, and other animal products, throughout the month of November.
The British public, says Animal Aid, is often under the impression that cages have gone, and with it the suffering of egg-laying hens. In fact, around half of all eggs laid in the UK come from hens who are permanently caged. Although traditional battery cages were banned in 2012, the so-called ‘enriched’ cages that replace them are little better.
These replacement cages can house up to 80 hens, and the space per bird is little bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. This gives them hardly enough space to move, and little hope of stretching their wings. The only ‘enrichment’ provided is a scratching area – usually a small plastic mat – and a screened off nest-box, which is not required to have any nesting or bedding material in it. While many people would not consciously buy eggs from caged hens, these are often ‘hidden’ in products such as pasta, cakes and quiches.
Animal Aid campaigner, Isobel Hutchinson said: “The public often seems to be under the impression that the suffering of egg-laying hens is a thing of the past. Many people are unaware of the cruelty of the egg industry, and would be shocked if they knew the truth. They also assume that giving up eggs would mean going without treats such as cakes, mayonnaise and quiches. Fortunately, delicious cruelty-free versions of all these products can be bought, or easily made at home. With a growing range of egg-free foods available in supermarkets and health food shops, it has never been easier to make the change.
“By taking part in Animal Aid’s Great Vegan Challenge, members of the public can receive all the support they need to give up eggs, and other animal products, throughout November, which is World Vegan Month. It is free to take part, and participants will receive nutritional information, recipes, news about exclusive offers and events and access to an online forum for swapping tips and advice.”
Earlier this year, Animal Aid conducted an undercover investigation into a farm where birds were kept in ‘enriched’ cages. Birds were filmed in cramped, filthy conditions, often with missing feathers. A dead hen was lying in one of the cages. The footage appeared to show birds who had been subjected to beak ‘trimming’ – a common practice that involves the tip of the beak being sliced off, usually with a red-hot blade.
Whilst barn, free-range and organic eggs do not come from caged hens, birds kept under these systems still endure a miserable existence. Free-range hens are typically kept in crowded sheds with limited outside access. Research shows that crowding can make it so difficult to leave the shed that only 15 per cent of hens can be found outside at any one time. These hens are usually the same strain as those kept in cages, so they struggle to cope with weather and pathogens found outside, and frequently die on-farm. Hens raised under organic systems can still be housed in groups of up to 3,000 and may have outside access for only a third of their lives.
Some of the most disturbing practices are universal to the whole egg industry, whether the hens are caged, free-range or organic. Male chicks, who cannot be used for egg or meat production, are gassed or shredded alive. By the age of 72 weeks, egg-laying hens are exhausted and unable to produce enough eggs. They are transported to the slaughterhouse, where they all endure a terrifying death.