It’s hard to argue with vegans’ reasons for excluding eggs from their diet. To start, laying hens are crammed into wire cages that allow each hen a living space less than the size of an 8 ˝” x 11″ sheet of paper. Virtually every natural behavior is thereby thwarted, including nesting, scratching, foraging, preening, dust-bathing and simply flapping their wings. Disease runs rampant, the stench of ammonia from feces saturates the air inside the shed and carcasses are left lying among the surviving hens. At only two years of age, after being forced to produce more eggs in that time than their bodies are designed to handle, these hens are “spent” and so sent to the slaughterhouse for processing.
There’s also the horrifying fact that for every laying hen subjected to this systematic abuse, there is a male chick — more than 200 million of them every year – that’s killed the day it’s born, tossed into a trash bag to suffocate or ground up by a macerator while it’s still alive. Why? Because it can’t lay eggs (being male) and won’t grow fast enough to be profitably raised for meat (having been born as a layer versus a broiler chick). These are the widespread practices of an egg industry focused on maximizing profits at any cost to animal welfare and ethical responsibility.
Nonetheless, ethical egg eating can be done under the following circumstances:
1. The Egg Comes from a Free and Happy Hen
A happy hen has a comfortable place to live and is free to engage in every natural behavior that occurs to her, including broodiness (see #4 below). As she would in the wild, she lives among several other hens and a rooster. She’s well cared for and raised by a local farmer you trust or by yourself in your own backyard, in which case she can be considered part of your family, a beloved pet like any other.
2. The Egg Is Unfertilized
This addresses the fundamental moral issue of taking a life to satisfy one’s appetite. As explained by Umbra on Grist, “It is not my opinion but rather a fact that if a hen’s egg has not been fertilized by a rooster, no embryo or chick will form.” So no life will be taken by eating an unfertilized egg. A hen will lay eggs regardless, and “in the wild,” according to Library Index, “the hen would leave infertile eggs to rot or be eaten by predators.”
You can “candle” eggs, or hold them up to a light, to figure out which are fertilized and which are not, according to LocalHarvest.org. The ones that appear opaque are fertilized.
You can ensure that hens will lay only infertile eggs by keeping roosters off the premises, away from the hens, but would that be ethical? I spoke with one farmer, Nigel Waters of Eatwell Farm in the Sacramento Valley, who produces pasture-raised, free range, organic eggs, and he believes that his hens could easily do without any roosters around. But another farmer, Stephanie Alexandre of Alexandre EcoDairy Farms in Crescent City, California, argued that her roosters are integral to the social order on the farm, helping to protect the hens and keep them in line, and of course sounding the wake-up call for all. “In natural conditions,” as explained on Library Index, “chickens tend to live in small groups composed of one male chicken… and a dozen or more female chickens.”
At any rate, while well-meaning eaters may choose to eat only infertile eggs, they are nonetheless also implicated in whatever becomes of the eggs with actual prospects for life. So let’s consider that next.
Next: Chicks (Male and Female) Are Nurtured, Free and Happy
Photos Courtesy of Thinkstock
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