I’ve spoken about the egg industry before, but it’s time to ask again are free range eggs ethical and this time I’m going to re-visit this topic and look at it from a slightly different angle.
Let’s start at the beginning – and, no, I’m not getting into the argument of which comes first – the chicken or the egg nor about battery eggs verses free range eggs.
Have you ever wondered where the Hatcheries get the eggs from? You see the Hatcheries are big business. This is where the eggs are incubated and hatched. The chickens are then sold to the egg farmers, be they caged or free range.
Try as I might, the information about the “parents” (where these fertilized eggs actually come from), is very scarce, especially in N.Z. – Which makes it even more worrying. Just the mere fact that there appears to be no data available creates a feeling of mistrust. In fact even SAFE said it is a very secretive industry and virtually impossible to find out anything – very suspect.
I did find out that we do import breeding birds from both the Netherlands and U.S.A. They do this in order to keep the flock healthy …. no in-breeding.
I also discovered that there are not that many breeding bird farms around the world as it’s quite a scientific operation. These farms do genetic tests and selection based on progeny testing to ensure they have excellent breeders.
In Australia, the fertilized eggs are imported, so it appears that there are no “parent” birds there.
So looking at the U.S.A. parent bird situation (N.Z. does tend to mimic the USA practices). Again information is scarce but what I did discover was pretty abysmal.
On average the “parent” birds are housed in sheds. They have about 1.88-2 square feet per bird and quite often the ratio is one rooster for every 9-11 hens. In saying that, I also discovered that generally the roosters are not actually put with the hens, instead the sperm is removed and artificially injected into the females.
But wait, there’s more. Many of these birds are beak-trimmed and de-spurred, the roosters can even have their combs cut off and de-toed … all this to prevent aggression and usually done without anaesthesia.
On to some facts:
- Birds are fed once a day.
- Their eggs are collected three times a day to go to hatcheries.
- Usually at the end of their first laying cycle they are sent to slaughter.
- Roosters can survive slightly longer than 18 months, but then slaughtered.
Now I can understand why this industry is so tightly shut. They do not want any light shone on them and are probably quite happy that there is more angst around caged egg producing hens.
But this must be a huge industry. Just to put it into perspective how many layer hens per year is required for the egg industry (including free-range):
- N.Z. = over 3 million.
- Australia = around 11 million.
- Britain = 29 million.
- USA = 302 million.
So the number of fertilized eggs would have to be at least double these numbers just to be on the safe side because of the male chicks.
If you are eating eggs, be they free-range or other, please try to reduce the number. Try committing to two or three days a week going completely animal free in all your food choices. It’s not that difficult to do once you get into swing of it – and there’s always plenty of help if you need it. Please spare a thought for those mummy birds.