Every year, hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens are forced to spend their lives in cages so small they can’t move, while producers continue to dupe consumers into believing they’re making compassionate choices with misleading labels and getting them to pay more for products they believe are humane.
Last week, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and Compassion Over Killing (COK) filed a complaint in a federal district court in Oakland against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agriculture Marketing Service, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for failing to regulate animal welfare labeling on egg cartons.
Despite previous petitions requesting that production methods be listed on egg cartons, no action has been taken by the government and consumers continue to be misled about the level of care that egg-laying hens receive.
“Labeling requirements would help consumers avoid purchasing eggs from mistreated hens,” said ALDF executive director Stephen Wells. “It is long past due for these agencies to regulate the rampant false and misleading labeling used by egg producers to sell cruelly-produced food to well-intentioned shoppers.”
The groups are now requesting that egg producers nationwide would be required to clearly label egg cartons with egg production methods, including the identification of “Eggs from Caged Hens,” according to the ALDF.
But are eggs from cage-free, free-range or organic farms really any better?
These labels seem to conjure up images of hens living in environments where they can enjoy a range of natural behaviors, such as nesting and dust bathing. However, there are no regulations when it comes to the cage-free label. These hens can still spend their entire lives in overcrowded barns or warehouses, without ever seeing the sun or getting fresh air. ‘Free-range’ hens are uncaged inside, usually without access to the outdoors. There are no regulations about how much outdoor access they should have. Whether they actually get any or not is another story.
Regardless of the type of farm, egg production involves a number of unfortunate practices that are considered standard by the egg industry, including the mass killing of male chicks, who are typically thrown into grinders while they’re still alive or suffocated, debeaking, forced molting, which involves keeping hens in complete darkness and starving them for about two weeks to trick their bodies into another egg-laying cycle, and finally sending hens who are no longer producing at a profitable rate to slaughter, which will usually happen before they’re two-years-old — a fraction of their normal lifespan.
If making compassionate and ethical food choices is a priority, the only way to seriously support the end of suffering inflicted on animals used in agriculture is to pass on animal products.
Photo credit: Thinkstock