Thursday, 10 March 2011

Eggs - an ethical dilemma

The Friday Club Carnival - Ethics and Activism

When I first moved to Shropshire over 10 years ago, I was very excited to discover an Egg Merchant right on the A53 on the way to Shrewsbury. It was open to the public and you could buy trays of fresh eggs much cheaper than supermarket prices. As a bonus, if you went in with a child, they would give that child half a dozen undersized eggs free of charge. It started to become something of a family habit to pop in and buy the eggs and the kids would proudly carry their own boxes back to the car and home.

I never paid any attention to the huge, windowless barns. Nor did I pay much heed when the mountain of stinking waste was being mechanically shovelled out of the barns. Nor did I realise the significance of the buckets of discarded, unsellable eggs with malformed shells.

It wasn't until much later that my bargain eggs became something I wanted no part of.

Accompanying a change to a vegetarian diet, instigated to promote health and weight loss, came an awareness of the plight of intensively farmed animals. I supported VIVA - the Vegetarian International Voice for Animals - through membership and purchasing of merchandise (I still display their Pig Sick of Cruelty car sticker) and was horrified to learn of the conditions and barbaric treatment of creatures in our care in the name of producing affordable meat and other animal products.

I choose not to eat meat but I would never condemn anyone for not making that choice. I do, however, wish that meat eaters had more knowledge of where their meat comes from and buy and eat with that awareness.

If people are only interested in the cost of their food and have no consideration for animal welfare, that is their business but I'm sure there are many people who buy their meat and fail completely to relate the dead flesh to what was once a living, breathing, feeling animal.

I may not eat meat but I do eat eggs.

My concern for the welfare of poultry was heightened by a brief period of keeping three beautiful chickens.  They were so adorable as young chicks and I watched them grow into their adult forms. They had their own little routines and were fascinating to watch. It was a thrill when they first started laying eggs and those eggs were amazing.

I was heartbroken when two of my chickens were killed by a couple of dogs that were running loose from a neighbouring farm. The dogs' owner paid to replace my dead birds but nothing could truly replace them. I had watched them grow. They were special to me.

My chickens opened my eyes to the lovely creatures that they are. I have seen lots of video footage of caged hens and find it hard to believe that anyone would find that method of egg production acceptable, however economically sound the principles are.

I am not so deluded as to believe that all free range eggs come from happy chickens roaming completely freely. We have local producers who come close to practising that ideal but obviously this is reflected in the price and availability.

Regardless of how well (or otherwise) the layers are treated, there is always the dark side of egg production in that male chicks from the hatcheries have no economic viability and are slaughtered in their millions yearly. VIVA urge that we don't buy eggs at all for this reason.

It has to be all about balance.

I want eggs. I want eggs to be affordable. I am happy to pay extra to ensure certain standards of welfare but it isn't necessarily clear from the packaging exactly what those standards of welfare are. I would love for all supermarkets to display real photographs or videos of the conditions in which the hens are kept for each of the different categories and price ranges. That would go a long way towards helping people to make better informed choices.

Maybe one day I will go back to keeping chickens and enjoy that special relationship between Man and Beast. Until that day, one thing is certain - free range egg production is definitely a small step in the right direction from battery farming methods which is why, no matter how seductively low the price is, I will NEVER again buy eggs from caged hens.

Positive consumerism does not qualify me as an activist by any stretch of the imagination but I am bringing my children up to be aware of the ethical issues in food production and I do try to set a good example to them.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post Paula...I still shed a little tear over Chickishi, Henoir and the Flock! They were beautiful. I'm glad that we don't support the caged hen egg industry...but we do love our fried we do our best :) xxx


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