|the way chickens ought to live.|
good monday morning to you all. i have been writing for the past couple of months, on the side to longestacres about the more political part of farming. in particular, about animal welfare and animal rights and the general disregard factory farms have for these two. i wanted to share with you all a piece i have recently written about the new "egg bill" that will be put before congress this year. it is a bill sponsored by both the uep (united egg producers) and the humane society. there has been a lot of very optimistic and positive press about this in recent months and i wanted to be the debby downer to dissect it for you a bit and explain why 1) this is not a bill we should be happy or satisfied with 2) you should never buy eggs from the grocery store.
so...if you would oblige me in reading. and giving me any feedback. and thinking of the chicken in her painfully small box when you go to buy eggs next. i would be forever grateful.
***warning, i use capitalization AND punctuation in the following. it was written for somebody else and they insisted on both....typically you know, i wouldn't be so bold***
At first glance the new bill HR 3798 that will be brought in front of Congress this year, is a victory for animal rights advocates and their feathery friends. The bill, known as the Egg Products Inspection Act of 2012, is the result of an unprecedented compromise between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP). The bill lists a set of improved living standards for laying hens in battery houses. It makes deplorable living conditions for the birds marginally better. It also sets in legislative stone the conditions the birds must live in for the duration of their lives. In other words, the passage of this bill, while seemingly progressive, allows the UEP to get away with minimal changes to their operation while broadcasting the support of the HSUS.
In order to understand the consequence of the bill let us first look at the lives of birds currently in confinement housing across the country. Over 250 million laying hens live in what are known as ‘battery’ houses in the United States. The houses are long, windowless, warehouses outfitted for confinement egg production. Most of these hens (such exact numbers are extraordinarily difficult to come by) live in cages that are hardly bigger than the hen’s body. She drinks, eats, sleeps and lays her egg in the same spot. She does this inside. Without seeing the light of day, or spreading her wings, or taking a dust bath. She doesn’t get to do much at all but live and work, briefly, for the pathetic state of our current food system. As confinement farming goes in this country she is a cog in its proverbial machine.
Understandably, with conditions as inhumane as these organizations like the HSUS have fought vigorously against the UEP for years. The HSUS has supported undercover investigative reports in battery houses. They have stood behind legislative attempts in many states (most recently in California) to try to make the UEP treat their hens more humanely through legal channels.
The HSUS and the UEP have for all intents and purposes been each other’s classic nemesis. But, recently, the UEP came to the HSUS with a proposed collaboration; they would make some concessions about the hen’s welfare in exchange for the HSUS backing off their attack on the egg industry. The UEP was reportedly concerned about the money and time they would waste fighting the HSUS state by state over the treatment of their hens. They decided that it would be in their interest to compromise with the HSUS on one national legislative change instead. When the UEP came to them with this proposed deal the HSUS saw this as perhaps one of their only realistic opportunities to better the lives of factory laying hens and thus was born HR 3798.
The problem is that the UEP gets away with legislative murder with this bill and the HSUS is humiliated with their concessions and with a partnership that is very clearly one sided.
Currently, factory laying hens, are allotted about 67 square inches of space. That is smaller than a sheet of paper. A sheet of paper is typically 8.5” x 11”. That is 93.5 square inches. I encourage you to stop reading and study a piece of similarly sized paper. Could you imagine any creature living in that space for their entire life? HR 3798 is going to, 15 years after it’s enactment, require that laying hens have somewhere between 124 -144 square inches of floor space (depending on the breed of the hen). Taking the larger number, 144 square inches is one square foot. Not even the size of 2 sheets of paper.
One of my juvenile chickens (not yet, full grown) trying patiently to stand on 2 sheets of paper for 30 seconds. 144 square inches is NOT a lot of room.
Labeling is one of the final proposals in HR 3798. The proposed law would require egg manufactures to put on each carton how their chickens are raised. The labels would use a concise description such as eggs from cage free hens or eggs from free range hens or eggs from enriched cages. This is an important step to educating the consumer on how their food was raised. Sadly, a definition of each label is not included on the carton. Should a consumer read eggs from free range hens they may wrongly assume the hens live outdoors. They only have “access” to the outside, with typically, one door open at the end of a large and very crowded warehouse. The chickens that are fortunate enough to be perched next to this door may be able to venture outdoors but it is doubtful that many of the hens are ever able to go outside.
It pains me to speak out against the HSUS. The organization has done such good for so many animals all around this country. I don’t believe their intentions to be malicious with their compromise to the UEP. I believe they must be exhausted from a never ending fight with the egg industry and with every factory farming industry. But, this doesn’t mean we should praise them for any form of victory here. Nor, should we praise the UEP for reaching a ‘compromise’. We certainly shouldn’t praise this bill as a “good egg” like the LA Times did last month. This bill will do too little to change the lives of the hens.
If you’d like to speak out against the Egg Bill you can do so here. BUT I hope you, and I, and every egg-consumer in America will vote firstly with the dollars in our pockets.
Don't stand for enriched-caged e ggs or cage-free eggs or even free-range eggs. They're all bullshit. When you boil it all right down to it chickens are sentient animals. They deserve living conditions that no legislative measure will ever grant them the right to. They deserve fence-less green pasture. They deserve a warm and safe place to roost at night. They deserve clean water and simple, healthy grains. They deserve to flap their wings in an open space. To dust bathe in the dirt. To feel the restorative power of the sun on their combs and waddles. Sadly, no large scale egg operation will ever give chickens what they need and deserve. Only you and your neighbors and your local small farms can give them what they need.
So, don’t buy eggs from the grocery store. Buy eggs from farmer’s markets. Buy eggs from your neighbor. Get a couple of chickens and put them in your back yard and never buy eggs again. Ask around, you’ll be surprised at how many people you know have chickens or know somebody who has chickens and would be willing to sell you a dozen here and there. You don’t have to buy eggs from producers whose hen’s live in a 2-sheets-of-paper world.
The only way we can help these hens, and future hens, is to stop giving our grocery dollars to the big producers. Buy local. Love the chickens. Eat delicious eggs.