The chicken egg is a great source of protein and is loaded with many vitamins and minerals. The egg has become a staple in the human diet. Eggs that are commercially produced help keep up with the high demands for the product. There are many pros and cons to commercially producing eggs, but it appears that the negative attributes outweigh the positive.
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Hens that lay commercially produced eggs are kept in so-called battery cages, with just enough room to stand up and turn around. Cages are lined up and stacked on top of one another to increase the number of chickens that can inhabit a building. Some egg production barns can hold tens of thousands of hens. Because of this, egg farms can produce more eggs than chickens who are left to roam, and are cage-free.
Cages are set up so that the collection of the eggs requires little effort. A moving belt collects the eggs when they are laid and moves them to a single location. Hens are also fed automatically. Using mechanical equipment cuts down on manual labour and related costs.
Health and Welfare of the Hens
One main negative factor of using commercially produced eggs is that the welfare of the animal suffers. Hens are social animals and are not meant to be forced to live in cages. Since they have very little room to move, the behaviour of the animals changes. They can become aggressive and stressed and exhibit abnormal behaviour. This leads to a poor immune response for the animals and they are more likely to become sick, resulting in reduced egg production.
The chickens are also subjected to beak clippings. Clipping off the chicken's beak is the equivalent of cutting off a sensory organ, because the chicken uses its beak to explore its surroundings. Clipping is painful and is usually done with no anesthetic. Beaks are trimmed to prevent the chickens from pecking people or other chickens.
Hens cannot nest, which helps aid egg production. Hens cannot even flap their wings. They cannot also perch, exercise or forage for food. All these are natural chicken behaviours and when they cannot perform these, they become stressed. Caged animals become osteoarthritic from the lack of movement. This also affects egg production. Caged animals have higher rates of mortality.
Sunlight helps boost immunity, and since caged hens are locked up inside, and are kept in buildings that intentionally block all light from coming inside, animals can be more sickly. Though hens that are free roaming and caged both come into contact with fecal matter, the sunlight helps kill certain types of bacteria and fungus that may infect the chicken, causing poor egg quality. Healthy and happy hens produce better quality eggs.
It is more cost-effective to produce eggs commercially. Less space is used, and machinery can be implemented for egg collection. Eggs produced this way are more available to families because of the low price. Banning egg production from caged chickens would increase the price of eggs. Though the quality may increase, it would make it less affordable for people who rely on the cheap nutritional value of the egg to nourish their families.
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- University of California: Developing Scienced-Based Animal Welfare Guidelines
- Promar International: Impacts of Banning Cage Egg Production In the United States
- The Humane Society: A Comparison of the Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages and Alternative Systems; Sara Shields and Ian Duncan
- American Egg Board: Factors that Influence Egg Production
- Nutrient Content of One Large Egg
- Mercy for Animals: Inside Ohio's Largest Egg Factory Farm