Why free range eggs are not as ethical as you think

This is another one from my ethical living blog.  Hope you like it!

photo credit: Steve A Johnson

Let me begin by saying that free range eggs are much, much better than battery eggs.

This is something we all know – and most people who care about ethics opt for the free range option every time.  Battery hens  are crammed into a miserable existence, unable to raise even a single wing; in contrast, free range hens are allowed at least some movement and outside access.

But is the free range option actually more damaging to chickens,the environment and the animal rights movement in general?

Or would it be better to avoid eggs altogether?

Here are a few facts

1. Free range hens are usually kept in cramped, indoor conditions.  The only legal requirement is that they have some access to the outdoors.  However, this often means a few holes cut in the walls,through which only a handful of chickens will ever go.  This ‘outside’ area is often a tiny patch of bare earth.

2. Free range hens undergo painful and inhumane procedures – including being ‘debeaked’, which involves having the ends of their beaks cut off without anaesthetic.

3. For every free range hen born, a male chick is born.  As male chicks are unable to lay eggs they are usually killed soon after birth by a range of methods including gassing, strangulation, crushing or live shredding.  Those that are not killed are raised for meat, with none of the benefits that free range hens enjoy.

4. Free range hens are killed as soon as their egg-laying starts to wane – usually after about twelve months (their natural lifespan could be six-seven years).  This involves a long trip to a slaughterhouse without food or water, where they are killed using the same methods as non-free range hens.

5. While free range hens undoubtedly live in better conditions than battery hens, the existence of free range hens gives a’conscience soother’ to those people who would otherwise avoid eggs.  Therefore, like many other ethical ‘tickets’, such as carbon offsetting, it is diverting attention away from the real problem which is: the egg industry is cruel, no matter how it is carried out.

6. All eggs, free range or otherwise, are packed full of cholesterol.

7. Free range eggs still damage the environment – in fact more so, as more land and energy are required.  The meat industry is extremely damaging to the environment- more so than the world’s entire transport system including aviation.

8. Free range labels provide a smoke screen for farmers who actually engage in cruel activities.  An image is projected of happy, natural hens roaming the land, and ethically concerned consumers are deceived into believing they are making the humane choice.  If these labels did not exist, these same ethically concerned consumers would probably avoid buying eggs altogether.

Obviously, if you are going to buy eggs at all, free range eggs are the preferable option.  But if the demand for eggs remains so high, then supply has to match it – and the only way to ensure adequate supply is by cramming as many hens as possible into as small a space as possible.

Demand has to drop in order for supplies to drop – which is the only way to ensure hens are not subjected to horrific cruelty.

So next time you’re shopping, why not consider avoiding eggs, free-range or otherwise?

photo credit: nutmeg66


3 thoughts on “Why free range eggs are not as ethical as you think

  1. A beady-eyed friend has sent me a link confirming that the BHF does actually recommend eggs and that they do not increase cholestoral. (Link here: http://www.bhf.org.uk/default.aspx?page=12920).

    I will also ‘fess up and say that I don’t actually follow my own advice here… I wrote this article a while ago and while I do stand by what it’s said, I am very hypocritical and eat eggs quite often (free range, organic where I can… but I know this goes against everything I’ve written!) I will no doubt write an article some time about my stinking hypocrisy, and you can lay your crticisms at my feet 🙂

  2. So your writing an article about the ethics of buying eggs and try to support it with a point that is irrelevant to ethics “6. All eggs, free range or otherwise, are packed full of cholesterol.”

    Although the point is true, it is misleading in the sense that it tries to imply cholesterol is bad. There are two main forms of cholesterol – LDL’s (low density lipoprotein), HDL’s (high density lipoprotein). The type in eggs are HDL’s which are actually beneficial.

    • Hi Kieran,

      Thanks very much for commenting. You’re absolutely right about cholesterol being a red herring – hence the comment I’ve left above. I’ve had a few people tell me eggs are actually very healthy. I keep meaning to edit this article to reflect it I’m just procrastinating! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

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