Article by Erin Janus| Every day America consumes over 200 million eggs, and the stance that most people have is, “Well, chickens lay eggs no matter what. So it’s not cruel to eat eggs.” Let’s just say the egg industry has done an impeccable job at keeping us in the dark. If you thought you knew what the egg industry was hiding, think again. As a passionate vegan I thought I had a good idea, until I dove into weeks of deep-digging research. For those who learn better with video or audio, you can skip to the bottom of the page for the corresponding video. And to warn you, this article does contain some graphic content— but it is crucial that you become aware of what is going on. Here is the full truth that the egg industry does not want you to know:
1) Chickens are genetically bred to over-produce eggs
Hens used in the egg industry today have been genetically hybridized, manipulated and bred to produce 200-350+ eggs per year— that’s over 15 times the natural amount.
Naturally, most hens in the wild (who have not been genetically manipulated) only lay 10-15 eggs a year— for the purpose of reproduction. Just like female mammals, (including female humans) who only ovulate and have their ‘period’ a dozen times a year. And while the majority of today’s egg-laying hens are descendants of the wild Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) which laid around 60 small eggs a year, that’s still nowhere close to the 200-350+ medium to large eggs hens are now producing.
By interfering with the natural ‘brooding’ process of a hen protecting and nesting with her eggs by constantly taking them away, her body instinctively responds by producing more. As soon as stimulating continuous egg production was recognized as profitable, the exploitation and genetic manipulation of hens began, and alas: the egg industry was born.
For hens, producing and laying an egg is a delicate, labor-intensive reproductive process
This process begins in the ovary, and throughout the oviduct— a long, complex tube made up of five different sections: the infundibulum or funnel; the magnum; the isthmus; the uterus; and the vagina. Each of these sections are ‘like a station along an assembly line’ and are responsible for specific stages of egg formation. (Source)
The first stage of egg development occurs in the ovary, where the ovum (or ‘yolk’) is formed. It is then passed through to the infundibulum, where fertilization to occur. (However, in the egg industry, the key is to make sure the embryo remains unfertilized, otherwise it would turn into a chick, as nature intended!) The next stage occurs in the magnum. The ovum stays in the magnum while the albumen, or “egg white,” is formed. The third stop is the isthmus, a constricted portion of tissue where the inner and outer shell membranes of the developing egg are added. The longest stage then occurs in the uterus, where the shell is formed around the egg. Then the egg is moved into the vagina, where a thin outer coating of mucus is formed around the shell. The vagina then pushes the fully formed egg out through the cloaca, which is the shared exit through which urine, feces, and eggs are excreted.
2) The over-production of eggs causes disease, pain and early death
Laying 200-350 eggs per year, hens’ bodies become severely taxed, and they suffer from a myriad of painful, debilitating and fatal conditions as a result.
As a hens’ egg is designed to develop into a baby chick, it requires much nutrients, especially calcium for the shell. For each egg shell produced, a hen must mobilize approximately 10% of the calcium stored in her bones. A leading industry journal, Lancaster Farming states, “a hen will use a quantity of calcium for yearly egg production that is greater than her entire skeleton by 30-fold or more.” This is a main reason egg-laying hens are commonly afflicted with weak and broken bones, debilitating osteoporosis and paralysis, as their bodies lose more calcium to continuously form egg shells than they can assimilate from their diets.
A great number laying hens also suffer from ‘fatty liver syndrome’ due to their liver cells working overtime to constantly produce the fat and protein required for egg yolks. (Source)
Another common condition is ‘cage layer fatigue’ which the industry categorizes as the condition of a bird becoming too weak or fragile to stand. Fatigued hens whose bodies are too weak to pass another egg are referred to as ‘egg bound’.
Eggs stuck in the oviduct (‘egg binding’), infection from broken eggs inside their body (‘egg-yolk peritonitis‘), uterine prolapse, and ovarian cancer from hyper-active, rapidly aging reproductive systems are common conditions and causes of premature death for today’s egg-laying hens— even ones who are rescued from the egg industry and given a chance to live free in the grass and sunshine.
3) Chickens are sensitive, intelligent and social creatures
Being the closest relative to the prehistoric Tyrannosaurus Rex, the behavior of hens can appear to be merely instinctual. However, research has shown ample evidence that chickens are sensitive, intelligent and social creatures. Chickens have sophisticated ways of communication— scientists have discovered over 25 different vocal communication calls; including signals to convey intentions, as reported by Jonathan Balcome, PhD.
As reported by Scientific American in an article titled The Startling Intelligence of the Common Chicken, studies have shown the unique communication skills of a chicken is on par with some primates. When making decisions, chickens utilize prior experience, can solve complex problems, recognize others by their facial features, as well as empathizes with individuals that are in danger.
Furthermore, in this report, Karen Davis, PhD, researcher and president of United Poultry Concerns discusses the vast social and emotional complexity of chickens. Davis states, “chickens are endowed with memory and emotions that influence their social behavior, and have a keenly developed consciousness of one another and their surroundings,” as well as, “chickens recognize each other as individuals, especially after they’ve been separated.” Davis, who has experience with chickens, as the founder of a chicken rescue and sanctuary shares, “the inherently social nature of chickens enables them to socialize successfully with a variety of other species and to form bonds of inter-species affection, as well as mourn the death of other birds.”
4) Standard conditions for egg-laying hens are atrocious
Nearly all egg-laying hens in the world, including the 300 million egg-laying hens in the U.S. live on factory farms in long, windowless sheds containing rows of stacked “battery cages.” Up to 10 hens are packed together in one wire cage, often unable to spread their wings. Standing on slanted wire floors, the hens commonly suffer from foot and leg maladies, injuries, as well as feather loss due to physical and psychological stress.
With cages stacked several rows high, is standard to keep up to 125,000 birds in the same shed. The crowded and unsanitary conditions create a build-up of toxic gases including ammonia (from accumulated feces) which is hazardous to the birds’ health and increases eye infections, viral infections, and upper respiratory tract infections. However, as long as eggs— the desired product, are being supplied, almost all chronic infections and diseases remain untreated. These wretched conditions are preferred by the egg industry, as both the cost of adequate care, sanitation, space, and enrichment for the birds can cut a major chunk into profits.
Most birds in the egg-laying industry also never get to have the natural experience of motherhood. When given the opportunity, a mother hen develops strong bonds with her baby chicks, who find comfort and safety under their mothers’s wings. It is the mother’s nature to guide, protect, and nurture her chicks. However, most egg-laying hens never experience their eggs hatch into baby chicks, as her eggs are taken to be sold for human consumption, or to breed more egg-laying hens (which are disposed of if born male.) This is just another way the industry’s egg-laying hens are denied of their nature.
5) Mutilation and starvation: standard practice
Even on organic, free-range farms, it is standard practice to de-beak chicks using a razor blade, hot blade, or infra-red laser at temperatures of 1500°F (or 800°C). As confirmed by the USDA Livestock Behavior Research unit, a chicken’s beak is a complex, functional organ with an extensive nerve supply (including nociceptors which sense pain and noxious stimuli), and thus this procedure is very painful. Many birds, unable to eat because of the pain, die from dehydration and weakened immune systems. Other observed behavioral evidence of pain as a result of -debaking includes reduced pecking behavior, reduced activity and social behavior, and increased sleep duration.
According to Dr. Cheng of the USDA Livestock Behavior Research Unit, “following beak trimming, several anatomical, physiological, and biochemical changes occur in cut peripheral nerves and damaged tissues. There is a considerable body of morphological, neuro-physiological, behavioral and production research demonstrating the emergence of several markers of acute and chronic pain (e.g., persistent lethargy and guarding behaviors, reduced feed intake, and development of neuromas) as a result of trimming.”
Mutilating the beak prevents birds from natural responses to stress such as plucking out their own feathers. And as today’s egg-laying hens rapidly lose considerable nutrients and calcium, they have a natural tendency to consume their own eggs in an attempt replenish depleted and much-needed nutrients. Mutilating the beak also prevents them from such behavior, which is a big benefit to the egg industry.
Starvation for increased egg production
As laying hens age, they begin to lay fewer eggs. As hens come to the end of their peak egg production, in order to increase profits, save cost on feed, or when the cost of replacing hens is not profitable, the birds will be forced to endure one last round of heavy egg-laying before they are discarded.
They are put through a process known as ‘forced-molting’ which involves starving the hens for up to 18 days, keeping them in the dark, and denying them water. This shocks their bodies into a rapid, intense egg-laying cycle. (Source) To trigger the physiological shock of the forced molt, University of California poultry researcher, Donald Bell, recommends the removal of all food for no less than five days and as long as fourteen days. This allows egg producers to get the most eggs out of their birds, or the ‘best bang for their buck’.
Many birds die during the molt, and those who live may lose their feathers as well as over 25% of their body weight. Survivors may be force-molted two or three times, based on economics. According to the USDA, at any given time over 6 million egg-laying hens in the U.S. are being systematically starved in their cages. (Source) Animal scientist from Scotland, Dr. Peter Dun, states hens in the United States are force molted “until their combs turn blue.”
The newest form of force-molting to achieve the highest egg production from hens is done by feeding the hens nutrient-deficient filler foods, rather than complete starvation. This is not a problem for egg producers, because like all industrially farmed birds, hens are not protected by the Animal Welfare Act or the Federal Humane Slaughter Act. (Source)
6) Male chicks are ground up alive or discarded as garbage
In order to meet the global demand for eggs, hundreds of millions of chickens are bred into existence by the industry every year. About half are born male.
Since male chickens (roosters) do not lay eggs, and egg-laying breeds do not grow fast or large enough for economically ‘ideal’ meat production, they are ground up alive or discarded in garbage bags where they die of suffocation or starvation. In other cases, male chicks will be directly discarded into large dumpsters where they are left to die. This is standard practice in the egg industry. In total, approximately 200,000,000 newborn male chicks are destroyed every year within the global egg industry. The support of the egg industry is the support of violence and discardment of these sensitive creatures.
7) All egg-laying hens are eventually slaughtered after 1-2 years
The natural life span of a chicken is between 10 and 20 years, but in the egg industry, most hens are killed at just 1½ years of age. After an average of just 12-16 months of rapid egg production, the birds are classified as ‘spent hens’ and are disposed of or sent off to slaughter. Their brittle, calcium-depleted bones often shatter during handling, transport or at the slaughterhouse. They usually end up in canned soups, chicken pot pies, or similar low-grade chicken meat products in which their bodies can be shredded to hide bruises and deformities from consumers. Even on the highest quality, ‘humane’ free-run egg farms, when a hens’ egg production decreases and it is no longer profitable to keep her alive, she will be killed— and her flesh sold.
Other ‘spent hens’ are processed into animal feed, or grinded alive
For the tens of thousands of hens that are too deformed, do not have enough muscle tissue, or are already deceased, alternative methods of disposal are utilized including grinding the birds alive, gassing them, or dumping them into landfills. In one notorious case of cruelty in February 2003 at Ward Egg Ranch in San Diego County, California, approximately 15,000 spent egg-laying hens were tossed alive into a wood-chipping machine to dispose of them. Despite tremendous outcry from the public, the district attorney declined to prosecute the owners of the egg farm, calling the use of a wood-chipper to kill hens a “common industry practice.”
The egg industry also uses the ‘Jet-Pro’ system to turn spent hens into animal feed. As described in Feedstuffs, “Company trucks enter egg-laying operations, pick up the birds, and grind them up on site in a portable grinder. The ground up hens are then put through Jet-Pro’s extruder-texturizer, the ‘Pellet Pro.'” The pellets made up of dead hens are then sold to be fed to livestock including cows, pigs and chickens. To see how the ‘Jet-Pro’ system works, you can visit the website here.
8) The environmental impact of eating eggs
Breeding, raising and exploiting hens for their eggs is a massive waste of resources. It takes approximately 3 kilos of grain (in the form of chicken feed) to produce one kilo of eggs. But it’s not only food (grain) that is wasted. In the egg industry, it takes an average of 200 litres of water to produce just one egg, which means it takes approximately 2400 liters (or 634 gallons) of water to produce a dozen eggs. This is mainly due to the intense amount of water that is used to grow all the grain which is fed to laying hens.
Egg farms are also responsible for concerning amounts of ammonia gas emissions. Bird feces contain high levels of uric acid which is rapidly converted to ammonia in the presence of appropriate microbes. (Source)
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), pollution from livestock farms seriously threatens ecosystems, as well as human health. In fact, the fecal waste of cows, pigs and chickens has already contaminated over 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states, and contaminated groundwater in at least 17 states.
9) Egg consumption is linked to salmonella poisoning, cancer, and type 2 diabetes
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), approximately 1 in 10,000 eggs are infected with Salmonella. Right behind chicken consumption, egg consumption is the 2nd leading cause of salmonella poisoning in the world. The FDA esimates that 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis. In a 2010 egg recall, for example, half a billion eggs were recalled and thousands of people in throughout fourteen states were poisoned. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include, but are not limited to: fever, abdominal cramps, headache, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, recent studies suggest that egg consumption can cause heart disease, diabetes and cancer (including cancer of the prostate). And as reported by Dr. Michael Greger, studies have also found consuming eggs significantly contributes to an increase in carotid artery plaque buildup. In fact, the USDA has prohibited The American Egg Board from advertising or referencing eggs as being ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’! But they are allowed to say that things like ‘they help you stay full’, as well as hire celebrities like Kevin Bacon to promote eggs as something awesome and cool.
10) The industry’s deceptive marketing and 10-million advertising dollar budget
The egg industry, (along with other major sectors of animal agriculture), has been receiving very generous subsidies from the government for decades. The American Egg Board, for example, is a promotional marketing board funded by the U.S. government whose mission is to increase demand for eggs and egg products. Every year, the AEB sets aside $10 million for the promotion of eggs. And if you pay attention, you will begin to notice just how prevalent the promotion of eggs is— from industry-funded advertisements on TV, billboards, city buses, magazines, to chefs (and now celebrities!) that are payed good money by the industry to promote eggs.
As the truth about the egg industry continues to be brought to light, you will continue to see images of happy chickens, ‘loving’ farmers, healthy consumers and attractive celebrities all in the name of increasing egg sales. The advertisements will become more appealing, clever and creative. Don’t fall for it. Just like the meat and dairy industry, it is a profit-driven business and it’s advertisements have one goal: to keep you as a loyal customer.
Is organic or free-range any better? What about ‘certified humane’?
Part of the egg industry’s deceptive marketing to make people feel more comfortable with the exploitation of these creatures is the rise in ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ labeling. Did you know that keeping 20,000 hens in one shed still counts as ‘free range’? According to the USDA, to have a poultry operation certified as free-range, ‘producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.’ This can mean as little as one small opening being placed in a shed of 20,000 hens. The reality is that in almost all cage-free and free-range operations, hens are still deprived of natural behaviors, space, sanitary living conditions, and fresh air.
Furthermore, egg producers are allowed to print pictures of happy hens on green pastures onto egg cartons, regardless of whether or not their hens live in tiny battery cages and have never seen the light of day or a single blade of grass. For example, in June 2015, The Humane Society of the United States released an undercover investigation into one of Costco’s egg suppliers, Nearby Eggs, whose egg cartons display imagery of happy, healthy free-range hens in the grass. Their investigation revealed horrendous conditions— they found Nearby Eggs’ thousands of birds crammed indoors in wired battery cages; many were suffering injury, illness, severe feather loss, as well as dozens of decomposing, deceased birds. Similar cases have been uncovered by animal rights activists, including Animal Liberation Victoria who exposed this free-range egg facility.
And while authentic organic or free-range egg farms may be a ‘lesser evil’ and provide hens with slightly better living conditions, on every egg farm, even under ‘certified humane’ conditions, the birds are still ultimately treated as property to be profited off of. Supporting any sector of the egg industry remains in support of the genetic hybridization, manipulation and breeding of hens for the over-production of eggs, their physical stress and pain, mutilation, the discardment and suffocation of male chicks, and the eventual disposal or slaughter of egg-laying hens’ and their shortened lives. Ultimately, the egg industry is the meat industry— and it is cruel.
So what do I eat instead?
Eggs, just as all other animal products— are high in fat and protein. When transitioning to remove eggs from your diet, fried or gourmet tofu is a great replacement for eggs (especially in stir-fries, chinese and thai food) or when you’re craving that protein-dense fix. Contrary to popular belief, tofu has many health benefits. Avocado on toast (with coconut oil and seasoning) is another great egg-replacement that will give you that dense and comforting satiation!
Incorporating vegan sources of fat into your diet, like tofu, ripe avocado, and coconut oil will help to replace the fat, protein and calories your body is used to getting from eggs. Using a blend of milled/ground chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds in smoothies or oatmeal is a great way to assure intake of essential omegas and fatty acids.
If you are open to creative cooking, check out this list of recipes— incredible vegan versions of every egg dish! Yes, there are recipes for vegan omelettes, sunny-side-ups, scrambled and poached ‘eggs’, eggless frittata and quiche! All egg-free (and cruelty-free), but with egg-like texture, taste and satisfaction!
As far as baking goes, there are several plant-based egg replacers available at grocery stores and natural food markets. There are also many tips and variations you can find online on how to use apple sauce, banana or ground flax seed to replace eggs in baked goods. There are so many incredible options and vegan alternatives out there for you to discover! It’s better for the planet, the animals, and your heart!
Thank you to all-creatures.org, freefromharm.org, humanefacts.org, aspca.org, upc-online.org, foodispower.org, gentleworld.org and all other journalists, writers, speakers, artists and activists for helping to make this information transparent to the public.