People who meet me are often surprised to discover that I’m a vegetarian, after all a 20-something, white male tends to be classified in the heavy meat eating category of the population.
I became a vegetarian in late 2007 after decided that the act of killing animals for us to eat was barbaric and immoral, so I turned my back on all the tasty meals I loved and set out to move to fully vegetarian diet.
I have stuck by this since 2007 eating no meat, but still consuming products such as dairy and eggs. The idea of becoming a vegan didn’t really appeal, I love my eggs and dairy way too much and the production of these foods *should* not be harmful to animals.
“should” being the keyword. Unfortunately it seems the egg industry engages in many cruel practices, even without eating meat I am still supporting the torture and cruel death of thousands of chickens. :-(
THE CRUEL SECRET
Today I came across a video via twitter that shows the cruel practice that is the egg production industry’s treatment of baby chickens (chicks).
You can watch it here, but it’s pretty heart wrenching – watching chirping baby chickens being thrown around conveyor belts before the males are separated from the females and fed into mulching machines is a pretty shocking sight.
Apparently the male chickens don’t grow rapidly enough for profitable meat production and since they can’t lay eggs, these chicks are surplus to the egg companies and need to be “disposed of”.
Unfortunately there’s nothing to state that free range farms don’t do the same thing to their chickens – sure, the chickens need to be free range, but free range says nothing about how they handle unwanted chicks. Nor does it state whether or not chicks are de-beaked.
IN NEW ZEALAND
The video in the link above is based off a US based chicken farm. Being based in New Zealand, I wasn’t sure about our legal standards, so I did a bit of initial research into the issue.
New Zealand still permits the cruel practice of battery farmed hens although for a long time it has been possible to buy barn laid and free range eggs from supermarkets due to widespread consumer demand and condemnation of the practices of barn laid eggs.
Many of these egg companies are RNZSPCA certified. Seeing as SPCA stands for Society for Prevention for Cruelty to Animals, I figured any eggs with the SPCA badge are a good choice to buy.
After seeing the video, I decided to check the requirements at the SPCA to verify that they don’t support such treatment to animals… however I couldn’t find any clear documentation.
So I had a read through their welfare requirements for free range egg production (warning: DOC download). Interestingly, it appears that:
The SPCA implicitly supports the destruction of male chicks.
Their document states “Destruction of male chicks must be in accordance with the Code of Recommendations and Minimum Standards for the Welfare of Layer Hens. All hatchery waste must be treated so as to kill instantaneously any living embryos. Instantaneous fragmentation and carbon dioxides are accepted methods.”
That sounds like mulching chicks would be acceptable by SPCA standards! So I took at a look at the “New Zealand Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2005“.
The NZ code of welfare states that it is acceptable to gas birds to death or via methods such as neck dislocation. It makes no mention as to how neck dislocation should take place, after all putting chicks into mulchers would certainly “dislocate” necks.
So, from my reading of this, it appears that the SPCA would technically have no problem with the method of disposing of chicks as shown in the video.
Free range, but crammed in like sardines
The maximum stocking density allowable is 10 hens per sq.m. of covered/roofed area. That’s a lot of hens! I would expect something more along the lines of 1-2 hens per square meter.
De-beaked to prevent cannibalism
The SPCA permits the practice of de-beaking birds on the grounds that it is required to prevent cannibalism, so they excuse this cruel practice. On the other hand, I would like to know why so much cannibalism occurs in the chicken population.
Surely in the proper habitat chickens would not be fighting and attacking each other so much, if the birds are being crammed in at 10 birds per square meter I wouldn’t be surprised that such an event is occurring.
So from my reading, it appears that the SPCA is only interested in pushing the “free range” message whilst approving the act of mass chick destruction.
I always thought that SPCA stood for Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, not for the Society for Painfully Crushed Animals….
I have emailed the SPCA seeking clarification of their intent regarding the handling of male chicks and whether they plan to address this failing of their certification process.
Update: The SPCA responded promptly to my email, the details can be read here, the short summary is that the SPCA is aware of this practice but permits it to occur since they are not aware of any other method to separate male chicks before birth.
WHAT WILL I DO?
I really like eggs and they are widely used with many different recipes, however I don’t see many options other than:
1) Move from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet, or at the very least eliminate eggs (however I have concerns that if I go digging the milk production industry will be pretty bad too, it seems any industry involving animals is rife with abuse).
2) Try and find caring egg production companies that supply some Wellington stores – I have emailed a couple of organic produce suppliers to try and determine the standards behind the production of their eggs. Will post responses.
There is also a third option, which is to raise my own chickens. However unfortunately I am a city dweller, which eliminates this possibility.
I will post more information when I hear back from suppliers and the SPCA as well as my decision on how I personally handle the issue, meanwhile I have suddenly lost my appetite for eggs…
I’ve had some feedback from Common Sense organics, stating that they have not found any option that doesn’t involve the destruction of male chicks.
At this stage I will either move to an egg-free diet and I am considering moving to a vegan diet.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you feel the same way as I do about the issues with egg production, here are some suggestions:
- Talk to groups such as the SPCA about how you feel to see if they will tighten up their requirements for certification.
- Promote awareness of the issue – I never knew about the slaughter of thousands of chicks before someone sent me the video – blog, tweet and email links to this article or to the video itself around.
- Find a suitable egg supplier that treats their animals properly, I will blog about any I discover in my question to find moral eggs. (Feel free to email me with any suggestions/leads/recommendations).
- Consider egg-free diets, such as becoming a Vegan.
Please remember, that to stop cruelty like this, awareness is key – please promote this issue to people you know!