Simple steps to making kinder choices in the egg aisle
Author | Animals Australia
Consumer awareness about the plight of animals raised for food is on the rise, with ethical concerns playing an increasingly important role in purchasing decisions.
But with all sorts of confusing claims being made on egg cartons, the big egg brands aren’t making it easy for people trying to make kinder choices in the egg aisle. A lack of legislation and information for the consumer hasn’t made this any clearer.
Animals Australia has attempted to demystify the egg production systems to help consumers make truly informed choices. You can find a comprehensive guide to egg labelling on the Animals Australia website
Cage || ‘Cage’ eggs come from hens who live out their days in wire cages, with up to four other hens. Each hen has a ‘living’ space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. Caged hens are denied the freedom to express important natural behaviours such as being able to stand on a perch to keep their legs strong; dust bathe to keep their feathers clean and free from parasites; and satisfying their strong urge to lay their eggs in a secluded nest. They will have part of their beak sliced off at a young age, and due to a lack of exercise will suffer from weak and brittle bones.
Barn-laid / Cage-free || Hens in barn laid housing systems are not confined in cages so in theory they can move around. However, high stocking densities restrict their ability to move freely and exercise. Being confined indoors also means they cannot perform many of the normal behaviours that provide quality of life.
Free-range || Free ranging hens have access to the outdoors. In theory they should have enough to space to do all the things that come naturally to hens – dust-bathing; stretching and flapping their wings; perching and laying their eggs in privacy. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free-range in Australia so standards can vary dramatically.
Organic || Certified organic eggs come from hens kept on farms which meet and exceed standards of the best free range facilities. However, simply the word ‘organic’ on an egg carton can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of hens meets certified organic standards — when it may merely mean that hens in barns are fed organic grains.
Other things to think about
It’s important to be aware that there are ethical concerns involved in all types of egg production. In all systems, layer hens are slaughtered at a very young age. Instead of living to their natural age of about 10 years, hens are considered “spent” at just 18 months old, and subsequently killed.
Another concern relates to the hatching of chicks to replace ‘spent’ hens. Male chicks will not lay eggs and thus have no commercial value to the egg industry. They are routinely gassed or ‘macerated’ (ground up alive) on their first and only day of life. This is the fate for 12 million male chicks in Australia every year – disposed of as waste products of the egg industry.
Avoiding eggs altogether is easier than you’d think. Egg-replacers are available in most supermarkets, and there are other alternatives when a recipe calls for eggs (e.g. mashed banana, melted vegetable margarine, corn flour). Check out some ideas here.
Animals Australia is one of the largest and the most dynamic national animal protection organisation, representing some 40 member societies and thousands of individual supporters. Their goal is to significantly and permanently improve the welfare of all animals in Australia. For more information, check out their website.