Everyone has different beliefs on how animals should be treated. The majority of consumers in the world don’t care about animals at all; then, factions emerge on this spectrum of animal welfare advocacy. Cage-free consumers believe that no animal is meant to live their life in a cage; free-range consumers take it a step further and believe animals don’t deserve to live in a warehouse but instead outside in a field. Vegetarians and vegans don’t believe animals should be killed at all, and vegans take it a step further by not supporting any form of animal exploitation. However, all of these factions have the common belief that animals deserve to live happy and healthy. Most people are simply not aware of the cruelty going on in the factories and in the farms. To the workers/farmers, animals are products – they are inanimate objects that generate profits. They don’t care about the pain and suffering animals go through. The only thing that convinces people that these workers don’t treat the animals inhumanely is a sticker. A sticker that claims the meat/eggs as either cage-free or free-range makes consumers feel like they made a more ethical purchase, but the realities behind the actual treatment of these animals will make you second guess yourself about how “ethical” that purchase really was. Marketing campaigns have painted a picture of chickens happily pecking about in a beautiful field, but that is very far from the truth. They lied to you, and I am here to expose those fabrications.
Let’s start with the common enemy: the factory farms. They treat animals horribly, worse than anybody else. Philip Lymbery writes in his article, “Free-range hens happier in cages? Just look at the hens,” that factory farms use battery cages that give “less floor space than a sheet of A4 paper… [which makes chickens] unable to flap or stretch their wings.” Since the chickens are confined to these cages, they cannot participate in their natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dustbathing; these restrictions cause chickens a lot of stress which can make them very sick. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), chickens also “suffer from feather loss, bruises, and abrasions due to constant rubbing against the wire bars.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states, “Nearly all meat-chickens are raised…in large sheds containing 20,000 chickens or more. The chickens live crammed together on the shed floor, which is covered in litter. Because they live in their own waste, high ammonia levels irritate and burn their eyes, throats and skin… [Also,] the frustration of living in such tight quarters sometimes leads to fighting. To lessen this problem, factory farms burn or slice off a portion of each hen’s beak.” Clearly, factory farms treat these poor animals as slaves that are not worthy of their basic rights to cleanliness and healthcare. They are treated as products instead of living beings, and no one reprimands the workers because birds raised for meat or eggs are excluded from federal animal protection laws.
The industry is clearly inhumane, so once people heard about the horrid conditions chickens live in, people started petitions demanding that the chickens should no longer be kept in cages. Now, hens can lay their eggs in a nest instead of a funnel. They also have perches a few centimeters off the ground that hens can go up to. Perching is vital for hens because they are more prone to mites and pests if they are nesting on the floor litter. Cage-free facilities now also offer dustbathing areas for hens, which is very important because chickens take dust baths to get rid of the parasites that tend to afflict them. However, the problem with cage-free is that the hens are not allowed to go outside; instead, they are densely packed into warehouses. Because there are so many chickens, negligence is a major cause of death because they fall ill and do not receive any veterinary care, and their dead bodies wither away amongst the other living chickens, which causes those chickens to become sick as they live around so much filth. In these warehouses, according to the ASPCA, they “keep the lights on almost all the time in order to restrict chickens’ sleep, so they can continue to eat and grow [into abnormally large sizes].” Obviously, the conditions in cage-free facilities are only mildly better than in the factory farm’s battery cages. Although, this treatment is “humane” enough for some folks, others believe it could be much better.
People then began demanding that chickens should be allowed to roam around outside and not be confined in a building. Now, free-range farms provide even better conditions for the chickens. Lymbery states that these farms allow “each hen the potential for a decent quality of life.” Although it is much better than the former two options, it is still not the best alternative for the hens. Sarah, the “Healthy Home Economist,” exposes the reality of the awful conditions hens live in, even though they were sold as cage-free/free-range. In her article, “What ‘Free Range’, ‘Cage Free’ Chickens Really Look Like,” she writes about a post she read on Facebook, where a woman purchased three one-year old cage-free/free-range hens from a commercial farm that looked malnourished and mistreated. The woman explains that the chickens “didn’t know how to act like chickens. They wouldn’t roost at night…and they pecked at everything…Their toenails were over an inch long…They had hen mites. All have feather loss. The combs on their heads were…very pale, a sign of anemia and malnourishment…Their eggs were without shells… [due to] extreme calcium deficiency…They also had their beaks cut.” Despite the fact that these neglected hens are lacking vital vitamins, they are actually one of the fortunate ones. At least they were sold to a kind caretaker, but this is not the case for most. The ASPCA claims that “when a hen’s egg production drops due to age, some farms will withhold proper nutrition for up to two weeks to shock the bird’s body into a final laying cycle.” This process is called “forced molting,” and all farms practice this to ensure they get the most profits from each hen. According to the Humane Society, once the forced molting phase is over, they are “transported long distances to [slaughterhouses] with no food or water. This generally happens around the age of two-years old, which is far less than half their normal lifespan.” Clearly, not even free-range farms give chickens the proper, joyful conditions they deserve, so some people quit eating meat altogether.
Now, just because you’re vegetarian and you don’t contribute to animal slaughter doesn’t mean you are not contributing to animal suffering and exploitation. The egg industry is extremely distressing for the hens. Right when the hen gives birth, all of her babies are taken away from her. This is just as traumatic to an animal mother as it is to a human mother. The hen becomes very stressed – which that all in itself can cause a multitude of health concerns – as she will instinctively feel the need to replace those eggs. Workers will then rape (or “artificially-inseminate” to put it mildly) hens in order to force them to produce more and more eggs, which causes the hen to fall very ill as she is continuously being depleted of many vital nutrients during birth; consequently, she is no longer considered valuable. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) states that “these ‘spent’ hens are shipped to slaughterhouses, where their fragile legs are forced into shackles and their throats are cut.” Frankly, even though you’re vegetarian, you’re not saving the animals from much suffering, so the only way to actually stop animal abuse and exploitation is by becoming vegan.
Clearly, the industry is not animal-friendly. The workers/farmers do not care about the chickens. Do not let the sticker fool you into believing that the animals are treated humanely; you now know that is far from the truth. Animals do not deserve to be slaughtered or exploited; they deserve to live long, happy, healthy lives. They deserve to live life as they please. They give birth whenever they mate, not when they are raped. They get to keep all of their babies and watch them grow into beautiful chickens. They get to peck around a field, dustbathe, fly up to perches, and nest comfortably. Evidently, you’re empathetic and genuinely care about animal welfare if you at least try to purchase items advocating for better treatment of animals. You’re just a few steps away from making the choice that will ensure all animals happiness and health: veganism. That is the only way to make sure that no animal is harmed or exploited in any form. Veganism is the ultimate ethical choice when it comes to animals’ rights and welfare.
“Animals on Factory Farms.” ASPCA. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.
“Cage-Free Benefits.” Cage-Free Benefits. WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals). Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
“Cage-Free vs. Battery-Cage Eggs.” The Humane Society. The Humane Society of the United States. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Lymbery, Philip. “Free-range Hens Happier in Cages? Just Look at the Hens.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Sarah. “What “Free Range”, “Cage Free” Chickens Really Look Like.” The Healthy Home Economist. 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
“The Egg Industry.” PETA. Web. 02 Mar. 2016