**no animals were harmed in the making of this blog**


on January 4, 2013

“I personally believe that the average battery hen has it worse than the average veal calf. I think it’s probable that a forkful of egg comes at a cost of greater suffering than a forkful of veal… For people making a gradual switch to vegetarianism out of concern for animals, I therefore believe that the first food to give up should be, not meat, but eggs.”

-Erik Marcus, making a comparison to the better-publicized cruelty done to veal calves, says in his book Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money.

So, in my post “chicken little”  we talked about broiler chickens. This post is about “layer hens”.

There are about 300 million laying hens in the United States; of these, some 95 percent are kept in wire battery cages, which allow each hen an average of 67 square inches of space—less than the size of a standard sheet of paper.

Overall, Canadian egg farmers care for a total of 25 million hens, producing approximately 500 million dozen eggs per year (6 billion eggs).

A typical egg farm has between 10,000 and 20,000 hens, although Canadian egg farms can range from several hundred to 400,000 hens.

More than 90% (according to one source 96%) of Canada’s egg-laying hens are confined in small cages called
“battery cages”. They are often grouped 4-6 to a cage.

For perspective, a hen needs 72 square inches of space to be able to stand up straight and 303 square inches to be able to spread and flap her wings. There is no room even for the hens to perform self-comforting behaviors such as preening and bathing. Hens are usually kept eight or nine to a cage; long tiers of these cages are built one upon another in sheds that hold tens of thousands of birds, none of whom has enough room to raise a wing. Excrement falls from the top cages to the lower ones, causing the same “ammonia burn” problem as in the broiler houses. Like chickens raised for meat, laying hens are debeaked as chicks. The hens are deprived of the ability to create nests for their eggs, which instead drop through the wires of the cage for collection. This inability to engage in instinctive behavior causes great frustration.

A sad side effect of the egg-production industry is the wholesale destruction of male chicks, who are useless to the egg industry. These chicks are not used in the meat industry either, because they have not been genetically manipulated for meat production. Male chicks are ground up in batches while still alive, suffocated in trash cans, or gassed.

The methods used to maximize production include manipulation of lighting to change the hens’ environment and hence their biological cycles; unnaturally long periods of simulated daylight encourage laying. Periodic forced molting creates an additional laying cycle: during this time, the hens are kept in darkness and put on a “starvation” diet (reduced-calorie feed) or starved altogether for up to two weeks.

Caged in this way, hens are unable to exercise, and constant egg production leaches calcium from their bones; these two factors cause severe osteoporosis, which leads to broken bones and great pain for the hens. The syndrome is called Cage-Layer Fatigue. Additionally, the wires of the cage injure the feet of the chickens, as the hens must sit in essentially one position their whole lives with their feet pressing into the wires. They rub against the sides of the cage, which causes severe feather loss and skin abrasions. In essence, hens who would normally be able to use their whole bodies and have lives as full as those of any other animal in nature are reduced to immobilized egg-laying machines, existing for that one purpose only.

The hens live like this for about two years or less, until their bodies are exhausted from the stresses of constant laying and their egg production decreases. At that point, they are shipped to slaughter to be turned into animal feed or sometimes human food or are simply discarded. In 2003 a public outcry brought attention to a California ranch that was reported to have discarded thousands of live hens using a wood chipper; no charges were brought because, as it turned out, this is a common industry practice.

Your choices?

You have probably all seen “free range ” eggs at the grocery store. While this sounds like a kinder choice,remember that there are no uniform standard for calling something”free range” or “free roam”. These chicken are also usually “debeaked”, and the male chicks destroyed.

The best choice, really the only choice I know of in Ottawa is Bekings eggs. Check them out and decide whats best of you.

Please, if anyone else knows of another supplier let me know.

One more thing: the eggs you get in the grocery store are grade A, but what happens to grade B and C? Might just end up in your bran muffin.

Canada Grade A:

  • Sold in retail stores for household use
  • The most commonly bought consumer egg
  • Firm white
  • Round, well-centered yolk
  • Clean, uncracked shell with normal shape
  • Small air cell (less than 5 mm deep)

Canada Grade B:

  • Sold for commercial baking or further processing
  • Can be sold at retail
  • Slightly flattened yolk
  • Uncracked shell possibly with rough texture
  • May be slightly stained or soiled

Canada Grade C:

  • Sold to commercial processors for further processing only
  • Possibly cracked shell and stained



2 responses to “Eggs

  1. these posts are super horrible.

    We get our chickens from a local farm ( and our beef from another farm ( Eggs and bacon come from the same farm as our chickens, or from Whole Foods, which I believe has ethical suppliers, but I’m not sure if I trust them or not since after all they ARE a large corporation.

    The thing that I worry about is slaughter practices. I know that the farms we use are not allowed to slaughter their own animals. It is not allowed under the USDA. it seems like half the battle is the animal living a good life, but the other half is a humane slaughter as well (such an oxymoron). I don’t even know if our farms know how their animals are slaughtered. I am almost afraid to ask.

    • Great points and definitely things I have thought about as well. Honestly, I still don’t feel like eating animals is completely wrong, but the idea that they have had a terrible life, coupled with the thought that they are scared before they die really bothers me. There has been a push in canada to do away with a lot of smaller abbatoirs (slaghterhouses) and have only a few very large ones. They feel that they will have more control over safety and inspection I guess but when things go bad, as they did with maple leaf, they go bad on a larger scale. the other issue with that is animals travelling further and less local food as well.
      That’s really awesome you have found farmers you are happy with. And thanks for sharing the links!

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