By Paige Arden
For years, there has been a battle raging between vegans and the dairy industry. The harmful nature of what happens when milk is stolen from cow and egg is stolen from hen has nothing to do with whether or not the animal is being killed directly for their product. They are being killed and made to suffer regardless of whether they are dairy animals or animals used for their meat. The only difference is in their suffering- not even the level of suffering but rather the methods used to induce it.
Focusing on eggs in particular, it can be just as bad for the hens and chickens to be used for their eggs as it would be for them to be raised for their meat. With all the craze over free-range hens and the reform of the dairy industry, people seem to turn a blind eye to the suffering of chickens merely because improvements have been made over the last decade. Words like “free-range” slabbed onto the side of an egg carton reassure consumers that the ingredient they use in their breakfasts or baking is not really all that bad for the chickens. After all, the fetus had no time to develop, and so nothing is actually dying so that they can eat. In fact, people are proud that they paid a little extra for the label of free-range, as if being allowed outside once in a while equals freedom for the chickens.
The reality is that chickens suffer regardless of whether or not the egg carton says free-range. Any commercial eggs equal suffering to the animals. So-called “free-range sheds” often times contain up to 9 chickens per square metre. Beak trimming is a common procedure amongst hens in nations such as the UK. Those in charge of the hens will burn off parts of their beaks without using anything so merciful as anaesthetic, because they need the hens to stop pecking at each other while they are enclosed in such tight spaces.
A little-known fact about hens is that naturally, they only lay around 20 eggs per year. Reports from modern farms show a single hen producing almost 500 eggs per year. This rapid production and near constant state of fertility means that the hens are left so exhausted that they cease to be able to function. Their life as a slave to the dairy industry means that they will live less than one-tenth of their natural lifespan.
This is without even considering the fate of male chickens. It has been estimated that around 6 billion male chicks are slaughtered each and every year through the global egg industry alone. Six billion young chickens killed annually simply because they are deemed useless by farmers due to their inability to lay eggs. Often times, they are killed by way of gas. Becoming increasingly common is Instantaneous Mechanical Destruction (IMD). This fancy term means that a whole group of live chicks are rounded up and thrown into these machines that have rapidly-moving blades until they are crushed and chopped up. Think of a mix between a paper shredder and a blender. However, the Humane Slaughter Association has stated that this method is perfectly humane, because if the machine is working correctly then the death should be instantaneous. Does that definition take into account the fear the chicken faces as they hear the loud noise of the machine or are forced into it? How about the utter wrongness of slaughtering babies simply because they have no use to the dairy farmers?
As disappointing as it may seem, even eggs from a local farm or a neighbour’s yard should not be eaten. Even though there are many places that treat the birds with the proper respect, eating eggs continues to be one of the biggest problems with vegetarianism. It makes no difference how good some places are if so many are bad. Until eggs are no longer considered food, millions of chickens and hens will continue to suffer. Hens will be doomed to the fate of a perpetual food production unit, even over their own worth as an animal.
The only way to get chickens the rights they deserve as living, breathing creatures is to stop the demand for their products. In the end, supporting any kind of dairy industry, no matter how ethical it may come across as, is unacceptable because it adds to the mindset that hens are expendable. To support one is to support them all, and so what is essentially torture to the innocent birds is something that must be condemned in all forms.