In 2003 a San Diego County, California, egg producer was investigated by the county’s Animal Services Department because a neighbor saw his workers emptying bucketfuls of squirming hens (hens who had reached the end of their egg-laying lives) into a wood chipper. The farm owner did acknowledge getting rid of 30,000 hens in this manner, and said he was just following “professional advice” from two veterinarians. While reprimands were dispensed, no one was charged or prosecuted for this act of brazen cruelty and destruction of animal lives. This grisly account came from Peter Singer and Jim Mason in their 2006 book, “The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter” and was sadly one of countless stories of serial cruelty and barefaced disregard for the lives of captive egg-laying chickens.
It is no secret that factory farmed chickens are not exactly living the high life. Besides being ground down into a pulp by a wood chipper (not that this is standard procedure) egg-laying hens (and broilers, as they are called in the industry) are subject to hostile, claustrophobic, and often times highly unsanitary conditions. This month, California’s governor and official state action figure, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a bill into law requiring that out-of-state egg producers meet California’s laws banning the use of traditional battery cages customarily used to hold egg-laying hens. Those battery cages, which are about the size of a case of wine, are used to hold as many as eight hens, who spend their captive, but not cozy, lives packed together and unable to spread their wings, turn around, or even stand up.
This bill, hot on the heels of proposition 2, which was approved by voters in November 2008 and phases out the extreme confinement of laying hens in cages by 2015, essentially takes the California standard and applies it to everyone and anyone wanting to sell eggs in California. This safeguard bill (A.B. 1437) essentially should insure that California’s major egg producers will not just jump ship and move out of state where the laws might not be as stringent. If they did, they would loose out entirely on the entire California market of egg lovers. So the message to the egg producers is to retool and become more humane (relatively) or say goodbye to a good helping of the market share.
Now California often leads the way with progressive reform and pioneering ballot initiatives (proposition 8 excepting), so is this humane measure a taste of things to come? Will other states follow suit to lead this country into a kinder and gentler egg-tastic era? If Ohio is any measure, then the answer is likely yes, as Ohio Governor Ted Strickland sought to impose a moratorium this month on new battery cage facilities in Ohio, the nation’s second largest egg production state (Iowa is the first and California ranks fifth).
Obviously these new measures don’t exactly address the wood chipper issue mentioned above, but do make a marked improvement on the general treatment and handling of factory farm hens. But is it enough? Do you think cage-free, and cruelty-free, eggs should be the law? Is cage-free enough, or do we have a long, long way to go before we start feeling good about eating eggs? Do any of these changes influence your decision to buy eggs and/or poultry?