Egg Fact : the Largest Bumber of Egg-Laying in the United States

The largest number of egg-laying hens in the United States are bound to battery cages. Battery cages are a housing system used for various animal production methods, but primarily for egg-laying hens. Typically, each caged laying hen is given just 67 square inches of cage space—less area than a single form of letter-sized material on which to live her whole life. The caged hens are not able to move their wings and are among the most extremely restricted animals in the livestock industry. Caged hens also are restricted from some physical behaviors, nesting, perching, and dust bathing, all critical for hen benefit. Many scientists and experts (PDF ) have talked clearly about these animal welfare issues with battery cages. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Konrad Lorenz, stated:

“Battery cages present inherent animal welfare problems, most notably by their small size and barren conditions. Hens are unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors and endure high levels of stress and frustration. Cage-free egg production, while not perfect, does not entail such inherent animal welfare disadvantages and is a very good step in the right direction for the egg industry”.

Cage-free hens are spared several severe cruelties that are the cause of battery cage systems. But it would most definitely be an understatement to consider cage-free facilities to be “cruelty-free.” Here are some of the more typical sources of animal suffering associated with both types of egg production:

Caged: Hens are confined to cages with a 67-square inch space each. The hens never get to see daylight and are fed a mixture of corn or soy diet. Over 90 percent of eggs in the U.S. come from hens that have lived in cages for their entire lives. These eggs don’t say “caged” of course?—?they’re just not labeled with anything special.

A large number of egg-laying hens are grown in battery cages —?tiny wire cages just size of an iPad, which constitutes their “ house ” for the time of their lives. From hatchery to a massacre, these egg-laying hens are subjected to mutilation: Egg-laying hens have part of their beaks burnt off with a warm arm (known as debeaking) without anesthetic.

In battery cage and free-range egg production, less desirable male chicks are killed at birth during the process of securing a further generation of egg-laying hens. [1]

Unlike battery hens, cage-free hens are fully able to move around, they are able to move their wings, as well as put their eggs in nests, essential physical behaviors denied to hens bound in cages. Most cage-free hens sleep in very large flocks that may consist of thousands of hens who still live in a facility and never see the outside world. A large number of cage-free hens reside on farms that are 3rd-party audited by certificate programmes that prescribe perching and dust-bathing fields. These rewards are important to the animals involved.

Effective 1 January 2012, the European Union banned conventional battery cages for egg-laying hens, as outlined in EU Directive 1999/74/EC. [2] The EU permits the use of “enriched” furnished cages that must meet certain space and amenity requirements. Egg producers in many member states have objected to the new quality standards while in some countries even furnished cages and family cages are subject to be banned as well. The production standard of the eggs is visible on the mandatory egg marking where the EU egg code begins with 3 for caged chicken to 1 for free-range eggs and 0 for organic egg production.

Companies all around the world are moving more towards cage-free eggs as the welfare of egg-laying hens becomes increasingly more of a public issue. Wendy’s restaurants said it would begin using cage-free eggs for 2 percent of its egg purchases. Other fast-food restaurants chains, including Burger King and Quizno’s, also source a portion of their eggs from cage-free farms. Battery cages, one of the most used systems of housing egg-laying hens, is under attack by animal rights groups and many consumers.

Each system was rated on 25 different points, creating a thorough zero through ten rating system. Results demonstrate that cage systems ranked a zero, while the 12-hen system scored a 10. Cage-free rated in the middle at 5.8. Free-range eggs rated at 6.1. A variety of retailers and food service eateries have made cage-free eggs standard. Just to note, starting in 2015, all eggs sold in California by law must be cage-free.[3]

A “cage-free” claim on an egg carton label means that the hens were not confined in cages. It does not mean that the hens had access to the outdoors. Hen houses that keep their laying hens in small cages have been the preferred method of housing in the egg industry since the 1960s. In a caged housing system, laying hens are given just enough space to stand upright, but not enough space to stretch wings or move around.

Oregon SB 805 also banned battery cages and set forth a transition to enriched colony cages, doubling the space per egg-laying hen. [4] [5] This law served as the model for a national agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers. [6]As the name suggests, chickens that produce caged eggs are kept in cages. Of course, farms always confined livestock to some extent (a field that is fenced) but it is the size of the cages and the stocking density that makes cage egg production such a concern. The average chicken in a cage egg system has no more space to stand than a piece of paper and must live in close confinement with many other individuals.

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