Free-Range: Not Free Enough
In recent years, the campaign to replace battery-farmed eggs with a cage-free, guilt-free version has gained tremendous popularity. For those who are becoming increasingly aware of the suffering of hens in the egg industry, the ‘cage-free’ movement appears on the surface to offer a win-win situation: improved welfare standards for hens… and eggs can remain on the menu, even for concerned consumers.
In addition to the ‘free-range’ label that we’re all familiar with by now, new labeling schemes have been developed over the years to offer assurance that the products in question have been obtained from animals living in humane conditions.
But do these labels really indicate an ethical improvement over their battery-farmed counterparts, or are they simply a way for the animal industry to regain consumer confidence in their products?
Partly as a result of the eagerness of animal welfare advocates and even vegans to promote supposedly ‘humane’ animal products, many people have been deceived into believing that these labels indicate vastly improved conditions for animals. However, the truth is that these labels were invented as part of a carefully-planned PR strategy to whitewash animal cruelty, and stem the tide of increasing public opposition to the injustice that underlies the production of all animal foods.
From the outset, Professor Gary Francione – creator of The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights – has been critical of these labels. In numerous essays, Francione has been candid in his condemnation of the enthusiasm of animal welfare advocates to promote these ‘happy’ animal products:
“The new welfarists have become partners with the institutional exploiters to sell animal products. It is nothing short of obscene that the new welfarists are developing labels, such as the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label, the Freedom Food label, and the Animal Compassionate label, to help the institutional exploiters to market animal corpses and products. These efforts have nothing to do with animal rights or the abolitionist approach. Indeed, this is exactly what the abolitionist movement opposes.”
In numerous investigations, labels that declare animal products to be animal-friendly have been shown to be nothing but a farce. The following video (which is only a portion of the footage that was released) shows a glimpse into the reality of animal concentration camps that are hidden behind labels offering promises of happy animals thriving in bucolic barnyard scenes.
As one investigation website explains:
“The reality? Millions of young hens standing shoulder to shoulder in huge enclosed warehouses, forced to dwell day and night in their own waste, enduring air so foul that workers sometimes wear gas masks to prevent permanent damage to their lungs. Just like their battery-caged sisters, ‘cage-free’ hens are brutally debeaked, force molted (starved for [up to 14] days to restart an egg laying cycle), and, of course, slaughtered when they are no longer of use. Or, as one investigator discovered, if no buyer can be found for their ravaged bodies, they might just be packed into steel drums and gassed, the piles of their lifeless remains sent to a landfill or used as compost.”
Not only are most of these hens killed at the same slaughterhouses as battery hens, but what many people are also not aware of is that ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ hens are generally purchased from the same hatcheries. As the Huffington Post reported recently, half of the chicks born in these hatcheries, being male, and therefore useless to the industry, are considered a waste product of the layer-hen business. These male (and some female) chicks are killed in unimaginably cruel ways, including being ground up alive or suffocated.
In addition, in a demonstration of the meaninglessness of ‘humanely-produced’ labels, debeaking, an extremely painful procedure, is permitted under all of the following egg classifications:
American Humane Certified, Certified Humane Raised and Handled, USDA Certified Organic, United Egg Producers Certified, ‘Pasture Raised’, ‘Vegetarian-Fed’, ‘Cage-Free’, ‘Free-Range’, ‘Free-Roaming’, and ‘Naturally-Nested’.
As long as the increasing human population continues to demand animal products, eggs, just like dairy and meat, no matter how they are labeled, will be obtained from animals crowded together in intensive confinement and subjected to gross welfare and rights violations, including horrific mutilation and mass slaughter.
There is simply no way to mass-produce eggs without severe cruelty, and welfare reforms or labels will not change this. The real problem is not that laws and regulations aren’t strong enough, but that the institution of industrial egg production is inherently unethical.
As Gary Francione points out,
“The bottom line is that animal welfare focuses on the treatment of animals. As a result, it seeks to regulate animal exploitation to make it more ‘humane.’ Animal rights, as represented by the abolitionist approach, focuses on the use of animals and seeks to abolish animal exploitation… These are not complementary positions; they are contradictory ones. In promoting animal welfare, we reinforce the notion that there is nothing inherently wrong with our using animals as long as we act ‘humanely.’”
Indeed, Francione shines a different light on the nature of this ‘win-win’ situation:
“This is what animal welfare is all about. More profits for producers, a clearer conscience for consumers, fundraising campaigns for welfare organizations, and the continued exploitation and torture of animals. It is, as Humane Farm Animal Care says, ‘a win-win-win situation.’ The producers win, the animal organizations win, and the consumers win. Only the animals lose.”
Vegan food preparation has come a long way since the word was coined 65 years ago. Admittedly, there is no vegan alternative available at this stage for a fried, poached or boiled egg. But surely the “concerned consumer” must ask herself this question: Which is more important – the taste and texture of a fried egg, that also happens to be the most concentrated form of cholesterol on the planet, or the knowledge that you are not contributing to the suffering of another creature who has endured a lifetime of torture for the egg on your plate?
If, like myself and many others, you would be happy to do without eggs in light of this information, there are many healthy and delicious alternatives available. See my sharebook for more information.