Consider the following 12 egg facts, most of which are common to all forms of egg farming:
1. The global egg industry destroys 6,000,000,000 newborn male chicks every year. (1)
2. Male chicks born to egg-laying hens can not lay eggs, and are not the breed used for meat. Hatcheries separate males from females through a process known as “sexing.” Since males are worthless to the egg industry, they are disposed of like trash, either suffocated to death or ground up alive in large industrial macerators.
4. Newborn chicks are more intelligent, alert, and aware of their environment than human toddlers, according to recent scientific studies. (3) In fact, many traits that were previously thought to be exclusive to human / primate communication, cognition and social behavior have now been discovered in chickens.
5. Female chicks are sent to egg farms, where, due to decades of genetic manipulation and selective breeding, they produce 250 to 300 eggs per year. In nature, wild hens lay only 10 to 15 eggs annually. (4,5) Like all birds, they lay eggs only during breeding season and only for the purpose of reproducing.
6. This unnaturally high rate of egg-laying results in frequent disease and mortality.
7. 95% of all egg-laying hens in the U.S. – nearly 300 million birds – spend their lives in battery cages so small they cannot even stretch their wings. (6) Packed in at 5–10 birds per cage, they can only stand or crouch on the cages’ hard wires, which cut their feet painfully. In these maddening conditions, hens will peck one another from stress, causing injury and even death.
8. Rather than give them more room, farmers cut off a portion of their sensitive beaks without painkiller. A chicken’s beak is loaded with nerve endings, more sensitive than a human fingertip. Many birds die of shock on the spot.
9. Most hens on “cage-free” or “free range” operations are also debeaked, as these labels allow producers to confine thousands of birds inside crowded sheds. (7)
10. In a natural environment, chickens can live 10 to 15 years, but chickens bred for egg-laying are slaughtered, gassed or even thrown live onto “dead piles” at just 12 to 18 months of age when their egg production declines. (8)
11. During transport, chickens are roughly stuffed into crates and suffer broken legs and wings, lacerations, hemorrhage, dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, and heart failure; millions die before reaching the slaughterhouse. (9)
12. At the slaughterhouse, most chickens bred for egg-laying are still conscious when their throats are slit, and their hearts are still beating as the blood drains out of their mouths. (10) Millions of chickens worldwide are still conscious when plunged into the scalding tank for feather removal. They drown while being boiled alive.
What Can You Do?
There are delicious and “just like the real thing” plant-based alternatives for every egg dish, from scrambles and omelets to quiche and sunny side ups. It’s also very easy to replace eggs in baking. Please share information about egg and dairy production with others, and encourage them to go vegan. You can learn more little-known facts about eggs and the hens bred to lay them at our official egg page, Eggs: What Are You Really Eating?
(1) “How to Do Animal Rights: Chicken Statistics,” accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://animalethics.org.uk/i-ch7-2-chickens.html
(2) Rodriguez, Sheila. “The Morally Informed Consumer: Examining Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Labels,” Temple Journal of Science, Technology & Environmental Law, no. 51 (2011). Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus30tempjscitechenvtll51.htm
(3) Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10129124/Chickens-cleverer-than-toddlers.html
(4) “Small and Backyard Flocks: Frequently Asked Questions,” University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Poultry Extension. Accessed 2/11/2014 from: http://www2.ca.uky.edu/smallflocks/FAQ.html
(5) “Unlike most domestic hens, who have been selectively bred to lay eggs year-round, wild fowl breed and lay primarily in spring. The Red Jungle Fowl lays 10-15 eggs per year, and the average size of each brood is 4-6 chicks.” Cited in “About Chickens,” Humane Society of the United States, accessed 2/11/2014 from: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/about_chickens.pdf
(6) “Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks, 2010 Edition,” United Egg Producers. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.unitedegg.org/information/pdf/UEP_2010_Animal_Welfare_Guidelines.pdf
(7) “Deciphering Humane Labels and Loopholes,” Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Accessed 7/21/2014
(8) “The Welfare of Animals in the Egg Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/welfare_egg.pdf
(9) “The Welfare of Animals in the Egg Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/welfare_egg.pdf
(10) Gail Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse, Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York, 1997, p.166.