Free Range and Caged (Battery) plus Barn Now About Equal
1. Sales of free-range eggs are holding up in the UK, notwithstanding the recession. The number of free-range eggs sold is expected to rise to 2 billion a year by October 2009, matching declining sales of eggs from battery farms. Caged birds are currently accounting for about 55% of egg sales this year. In typical systems, hens live in 3 tiers of cages in sheds with sloping mesh floors to allow the eggs to roll out. The birds are therefore denied the opportunities to nest and brood a clutch of eggs far smaller than the outputs demanded of comparable jungle fowl: the caged birds are forced to outputs of 300 eggs in an annual period of lay and they are slaughtered as spent hens for their meat before any chance of undergoing a moult and a second bout of intensified laying. The scrawny "spent" hens are worth very little as sources of meat. "Humane" slaughtering is therefore a problem, but the carcases and offals can be used in manufacturing soups, baby-foods etc.
2. Barn hens are free to move around the shed floor, but can still be packed in at 9 birds per square metre. There must be litter on the floor for scratching and dust bathing. Hens in barn systems remain indoors all the time. They account for about 4% of egg sales, and proposed EU regulations promise some improvements in their lot and those of typical battery birds. The packaging of such eggs must not use descriptions suggesting that the birds run freely out of doors (altho the confinement protects them from inclement weather and disease and threats arising from mingling with other (wild) birds and from predators such as foxes and from epidemics of panic and smothering, eg from balloons and other low-flying aircraft).
3. In systems described as free-range the hens must enjoy continuous access to the outdoors during daytime. To meet the Lion code there must be some shade and no more than 1000 birds a hectare. They account for 41% of egg sales, Organic eggs are always free-range. They should be fed an organic diet, but this is difficult to maintain when the costs of cereals fluctuates widely. The conditions and outputs offend genuine animal welfarists: they are certainly "unnatural" and deny the birds a normal life and means of self-protection, defence, and escape.
4. McDonalds in the UK, but not the USA, have led a major change to free-range production. Latterly companies to have banned eggs in the last year are Little Chef, which uses 13 million eggs a year, Starbucks, which uses 3.6m eggs in its fresh food, and Foxes Biscuits, which uses 1 million eggs.
5. "Most people simply don't like the idea of a cage, says Tom Vesey, Chairman of the British Free Range Egg Producers' Association, who has 16,000 hens on 40 acres in Monmouthshire (Guardian, 16 May 2009)." "My birds can go out on the range at any time from 8am to dusk, and that is much more palatable. But I am in favor of all sorts of eggs. It's jolly nice for the middle classes to buy free-range eggs, but not everybody has the money to shop compassionately," he says.
6. It is claimed that it costs 9p extra to produce half-a-dozen free-range eggs, altho a 30p mark-up may be expected. Tom Vesey attributes the extra expense to some questionable advantages: "the birds are more likely to acquire illnesses out-doors, they have to eat more feed to keep warm, and he had to maintain the outdoor range." He admits that he is "not desperately fond" of hens' eggs and says he couldn't see any difference in the flavor of eggs from free-range and caged birds: he attributed any difference to freshness. Birds need access to grass or other green plants, preserved or fresh, in order to yield vital fatty acids, including DHA and other omega-3 elements for development of the brains of human consumers. The nutrient value of the eggs can be altered by changes in the feed.
7. The convenience of the hens' eggs and by-products and co-products therefrom are difficult for earnest animal welfarists to avoid, altho the reasons for their aversions are strong. The recipes and menus in our Portfolio of Eating Plans avoid such difficulties. The collection ("harvesting") of hens prior to killing and the slaughter itself are major engineering enterprises, with boring and disgusting jobs for the workers. The slaughterers wish to oversee the processes by in-house controllers, but vets prefer to keep the killing under their supervision, with costs of training and actual killing under their monitoring.