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Cage-Free Eggs

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Deconstructing the Myth

This article is typical of news stories announcing the decision of an institution to purchase eggs labeled "cage-free." In reading the article, one notes how this change is characterized as "socially responsible," motivated by concern for the animals' well-being, and "environmentally responsible."

Readers of this article may wonder why a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States chooses to use the innocuous sounding term "beak trimming" to refer to the mutilation of the chickens' beaks. Indeed, until recently, animal advocates have made a point of more accurately labeling the practice "debeaking," thereby calling attention to the fact that this practice causes permanent disfigurement.

By labeling the mutilation "trimming," isn't the implication made that the act is like trimming a fingernail or trimming ones hair--both of which grow back unharmed? Does this serve to cover up the fact that the beaks do not grow back, and that with the passage of time the chickens may develop debilitating beak deformities? Would cutting off half a person's tongue be fairly described as "tongue trimming?"

Debeaking has been proven to cause both acute and chronic pain, leaving the hens with a condition scientists have compared to phantom limb syndrome in amputees. It interferes with their eating, drinking, preening and exploration of their environment, and debeaked birds have been found to be more idle as a result, most likely due to the pain caused by engaging in these activities.

The HSUS spokesperson therefore minimizes the severity of damage done by debeaking when he says, "While beak trimming is a painful process that occurs once in a hen's life, being confined in a barren wire cage that's so small they're unable even to spread their wings is an unfortunate everyday occurrence for many hens. The UW should be applauded for switching to cage-free eggs."

This raises the question of whether the need to "close the sale" on "cage-free" eggs drives well-meaning advocates to join the animal-using industry in deliberately misleading the public. When the representative of the egg farm points out how the employees mutilate the birds' beaks "the best way possible for the birds," isn't he continuing the process of offering the public false reassurance?

And when the author of the article points out that "beak trimming" will be phased out once the cause of cannibalism and other prevention methods are identified," isn't this further movement into the realm of false reassurance? Does it not give the impression that debeaking is a necessary evil, a tragic necessity, when in fact it is done in order to enable crowding more animals into a smaller space and thereby lower the cost of producing eggs?

And when animal advocates start adopting the animal-using industry's euphemistic language, how likely is it that the industry will not seize the opportunity to even further embellish the falsehoods perpetrated on the public? A recent industry publication, for example, advocated replacing the term "beak trimming" with the term "beak conditioning." Doesn't this move the deception to an even more outrageous level, going from the ugly reality of mutilation, to the misleading image of trimming a fingernail, and now to the Orwellian irony of describing partial amputation as something akin to polishing a fingernail?

This raises a larger question, a theme throughout this web site: Is there any way for animal advocates to successfully promote consumption of an animal product without practicing the same sorts of deception routinely carried out by the animal-using industry? If not, should they reconsider their responsibility to the public, and to the animals, and change course?

To learn about the hidden truth of the egg industry, see the slide show Cage Free Eggs: Behind the Myth."

To learn more about the animal welfare industrial complex, read Invasion of the Movement Snatchers? Doublethink Meets Doublefeel as Happy Meat Comes of Age

"The beginning of wisdom is the ability to call things by their right names."



A recently debeaked chick.

HFS flees the coop for sustainability

Does the need to "close the sale" on "cage-free" eggs drive well-meaning advocates to join the animal-using industry in deliberately misleading the public?

Source: THE DAILY of THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON by Sara Bruestle   Nov 2007   11/6/2007
Click here for direct link to source



The University of Washington's Department of Housing and Food Services (HFS) is practicing an exclusively cage-free egg policy for all foods cooked in its dining operations.

The change is an effort to improve the welfare of egg-laying hens and comply with the UW's sustainability policy for environmentally responsible purchasing.

Anita Bowers, former assistant director of HFS, initiated the policy change earlier this year.

"She saw the need for a policy driven by humane ethics in conjunction with the president's sustainability policy at the UW," said Gabe Kinney, executive chef of HFS.

To comply with its cage-free egg policy, HFS now purchases certified humane, cage-free eggs from Wilcox Family Farms, Inc. in Roy, Wash.

To be certified humane, the cage-free hens at Wilcox must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. These are important for hen welfare, in compliance with the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) standards for production of egg-laying hens, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Web site.


HFS representatives are proud to have initiated a humane program that promotes the better welfare of chickens and further establishes the UW as a socially responsible institution, Kinney said.

"Cage-free eggs mean less stress for the chickens and a better quality product," Kinney said.

Alisse Cassell, a member of Campus Animal Rights Educators (CARE), said buying eggs from a certified humane farm where chickens have outdoor access is a step in the right direction.

Cassell is still concerned about the fact that beak trimming — where part of the beak is cut off to prevent cannibalism — is permitted under the certified humane label.

According to HFAC's standards for production of egg-laying hens, producers are permitted to practice beak trimming, but will be required to phase out the practice when the cause of cannibalism and other prevention methods are identified.

Andrew Wilcox, in charge of hen operations at Wilcox, said the farm uses beak trimming methods outlined by the HFAC to ensure the humane treatment of the chickens.

"When we do the beak trimming, we try to do it as humanely as possible," Wilcox said. "We have full-time employees that come in and work with our chicks. We train them, and they understand the issues involved and try to do it the best way possible for the birds."

Josh Balk, the outreach director of the HSUS factory farming campaign, said that although beak trimming is an important issue, it doesn't compare to the cruel and inhumane confinement of hens in battery cages.

"While beak trimming is a painful process that occurs once in a hen's life, being confined in a barren wire cage that's so small they're unable even to spread their wings is an unfortunate everyday occurrence for many hens," Balk said. "The UW should be applauded for switching to cage-free eggs."


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