Thursday, September 03, 2009

Must-See Investigative Footage

Take a look at this just-released, must-see investigative footage from Mercy For Animals of the largest egg-laying hen hatchery in the world, showing the standard egg industry practice of grinding up newborn male chicks (the story has been picked up by hundreds of news outlets including the Washington Post and SF Chronicle). As many of you know, the egg industry has no use for male chicks since they don't grow fast enough to be used for meat. This goes for most free range/organic egg producers as well, who typically source chicks from the same hatcheries.  

The practice of disposing chicks by the millions is emblematic of an industry that reduces feeling animals into units of production. Think about it: like any manufacturing industry, the meat, dairy and egg industries are interested in churning out product at the lowest cost and optimized efficiency. The key difference is that the commodities are themselves sentient individuals, capable of suffering. Today, billions of farm animals in the U.S. alone are severely confined, intensively bred, mutilated without anesthesia, routinely starved (in the case of breeder animals), and forced through many other inhumanities to boost efficiency and profit. To stress the immensity of these cruelties, if a large-scale farmer treated just a few cats or dogs how s/he regularly treats tens of thousands of pigs, cows, or chickens, s/he would likely face felony charges.

That said, I don't think it's fair or constructive to lay all the blame on the industry. The fact is that producers are meeting consumer demand and it is, for example, virtually impossible to economically produce eggs without killing off the males and definitely impossible to produce cheap eggs without extreme confinement. So this sort of video should prompt consumers to reflect on their food choices rather than point their fingers at somebody else. In "Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money," Erik Marcus makes a great case that eggs should be the first, not the last food to give up for animal welfare. And though it may be counterintuitive, there's significantly more slaughter in the egg industry than in the beef industry (all hens are 'expired' when their egg production declines).  For those who eat eggs, there's no doubt that switching to locally-produced, free-range eggs (not the one's you'll find at the grocery) is a huge improvement for the animals. But still, corners are cut for efficiency, at the expense of welfare. As long as animals are commodified for food production, inhumane practices and unnecessary suffering are virtually inevitable. 

Note: This video only skims the tip of iceberg of all that is inhumane with the egg industry. For a more detailed account check out this report from the Humane Society.

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