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Eggs: The Perfect Food . . . For Sadists

I do about half of my food shopping at Whole Foods, and the other half at my local grocery store, Publix. Though I could get everything at Whole Foods, not only is that a very expensive proposition, but Publix has a very respectable offering of organic products and allegedly-free range products. Publix needs support; the more people who buy organic food there, the more they’ll offer.

I usually get eggs at Whole Foods, but this week I forgot, so Publix was the source. (The eggs are for the Republican carnivore husband.) All but one of the egg cartons looked very similar, which made me certain that the one that didn’t look like the others, in the cardboardish-looking packaging, that said CAGE FREE, was the one for me. I grabbed it and moved on.

Now, I recently read THE WAY WE EAT: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, so the egg controversy is fresh in my mind. When I get home I cringe as I unpack my eggs and see that they have the dreaded red check that says they are "United Egg Producers Certified."

Let’s deconstruct "United Egg Producers Certified," borrowing heavily from Singer and Mason’s book:

  • The United Egg Producers (UEP) program allows hens "barely enough room" to turn around and "not enough room to perform normal comfort behaviors." Each hen has a space about the size of a sheet of typing paper.
  • "Cage-free" usually means the hens are kept in sheds, by the tens of thousands, with barely enough room to move.
  • The UEP program permits producers to sear off the beaks of the chickens, with a hot blade and no pain relief. This causes chronic pain and infection.
  • The UEP program doesn’t require humane "disposal" of male chicks, and they are often thrown in dumpsters, alive.
  • Many UEP facilities now have a line of "cage free" eggs in addition to their regular operation of caged birds.

[A]t times these producers will have surplus caged eggs they can’t sell . . . Where do you think those eggs are going to be going? . . . In "cage free" cartons (p. 110).

  • Whether or not the hens that laid the eggs I bought were in a cage, they were debeaked, probably didn’t have much room, were by no means "free range," and most important, they were from a facility where the majority of the hens are in cramped, stacked cages, living in their own feces and urine, without any stimulation. I supported that by buying eggs from a UEP facility.

In case you think "Certified Humane" eggs are the answer:

  • The hens aren’t required to be allowed outside.
  • They can still be debeaked.
  • When they are at the end of their productive lives, they can be buried alive, tossed in a dumpster, and of course, there was that one farmer in San Diego in 2003 who chucked 30,000 live hens into a wood chipper to dispose of them. Oh, and another one in 2005. And I’m sure there are more. Why? Because the Certified Humane program says nothing about how the hens are to be slaughtered.

Wait, wait, "Organic," now that’s the ticket, right?

  • Organic eggs can be from debeaked chickens in cages or in sheds.
  • The organic part is the grain the chickens are fed, as well as the organic flax seed they might be fed.
  • The chickens don’t go outside.

What’s an egg-eater to do? Stop eating eggs, for chrissakes! This is a really nasty, cruel, dishonest business! But I digress. What you want are free-range eggs, where the hens can run around, play, and act like hens. I suggest finding a local supplier that you can visit to see how the hens are kept and slaughtered.

Umbra wrote about this a while back. Check it out. And if you want to know more about the labels on your food, visit the Consumers Union Guide to Environmental Labels.

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