Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Responses Received to Post on Caged Hens for Egg Production

On January 30, 2010, I posted a link to the USAeggfarming.com website on a local listserv asking people to view the video by Mike Rowe about caged poultry production and discuss it.  The objective of the video was to educate the public about egg production and explain why caged production is better for the chickens, human health, and the environment.  As someone who raises a few of her own chickens using a pastured poultry system, I found the images of the caged system disturbing.  So I asked for others' input.  You can find that video at http://www.usaeggfarming.com/.

Here are the responses I received to that post:
  • I am astounded that these people have the gall to be interviewed and to say that this is a good thing. There are a million birds in there living unhappy lives totally contrary to their nature as beings. Thank you for sending this out. This guy has not even thought of questioning the welfare of the animals -- though he mentions the word a couple of times.  Once again, it's just about humans making money. I will email Mike Rowe as well.  Thank you!!
  • So to my mind, this was mostly the usual bad/biased science used by commercial agriculture all the time. It's wrong, but to be expected (I will concede that we have an animal welfare issue in truly free-range systems in that our loss to predators is much higher. Is quick death by natural predator in a natural environment somehow "better" than a poor-quality confined life filled with antibiotics and un-natural challenges? I think so, but I'm willing to admit that it's not an easy, black and white question). I would love to challenge Mike to, as he says, "tell the whole story", since that's "never a bad thing", but I don't expect him to.  HOWEVER (ya'll were waiting for that, right?) the one part that did shock me was seeing a director of Animal Welfare Institute, Joy Mench, defending caged production as humane! I'm unable to find Ms. Mench's name listed on the AWI website as present staff - I hope this means she is no longer part of the organization and that AWI does not support such. If not, this is extremely troubling.
  • It has been brought to my attention that the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) was incorrectly linked with a video promoting caged production. As an organization with a 59-year track record of advocating for humane treatment of all animals, AWI would never endorse caged production of any kind. We are strong proponents of pasture- and range-based farming, and are proud of our work in this area.   Ms. Mench is the director for the UC Davis Center for Animal Welfare and has never been employed by AWI.
  • Don't all species evolve over time to adapt to their enviro, etc. Maybe too far out there but could our chickens in these situations never be able to live anyother way. The video seems comprehensive, the narrators well spoken, the facilities sterile!. . . .but diversity seems to be the protection we may need ultimately. I love my pasture hens and broilers and am of course concerned about disease but my resiliant birds might be stronger than 10,000 sterile hens against a super chicken bug!  Carry on with the good work!
  • Thanks for sending this link. I still struggle with this decision. It seems to me that a chicken that runs around in fresh air with a variety of things under its feet would be happier than one that spends its life on a wire grid in a small cage with other birds close by, but I don't know how a chicken's mind works, and I concede that I am applying my personal preferences for my own lifestyle to a chicken's. This video taught me that there are some people, among them those who set the standards for commercial egg production, who have a greater sensitivity to these issues than I would have expected. I also learned that there are downsides to free range egg production that I had not considered, such as chicken mortality due to the weather and parasites, not to mention predators (which I HAD considered). But my heart still broke to see chicken heads popping out of cages to eat, and the problem of removing waste still concerns me, though I will say that the farm that was visited was much cleaner than I expected. It was mentioned that waste is removed daily, but the procedure was not shown. It seems like since they already have conveyors to transport the eggs, the same motors could be moving waste, and belts could pass through a cleaner to keep things sanitary.  All in all, I am still content to pay more for free range eggs, what I call "happy" eggs from "happy" chickens," especially when I know the farmer who raises them. But maybe, after seeing this video, I won't have so much regret on the rare occasions when I am unable to get happy eggs and have to buy them from a grocery store. I will still hope for the best possible solutions to the problems described by the experts in the video, and keeping the cost of eggs in a range everyone can afford. Best yet, I hope to have my own chickens someday soon...
  • That is the cleanest chicken factory that I have ever seen.....and those birds had beaks! There is probably nothing that looks that good in north Georgia. As crammed as those birds where, they seem to have enough space that they did not kill the bird next to them. I have seen dark, nasty factories where the birds were so packed in that the humans burned their beaks off so they could not kill each other. Let's get Mr. Rowe and all those experts in one of those houses!!  Is there any truth to their claims about higher disease rates in cage free birds? And how much penicillin is in the feed in the chicken factory?  The claims about the cost of cage free eggs being higher is probably true, at this time. The highest quality, best fed, happiest eggs at market can cost $5 a dozen. Since eggs are a major source of animal protein in my diet, those are the eggs I buy....voting against chicken farms with my dollars.
  • The video is pretty outrageous, especially with the comments about free-range chickens and their eggs. I'd love to know how long these chickens live, how much square footage (or inches) each chicken receives and how they are handled at the end of their "productive" life. Also, wouldn't it be fun to compare the anemic "omelet" egg yolk they show with a bright orange free-range chicken egg yolk--oh, but us small farm people don't have the money or time to hire a video crew, well-known and paid actor, and seek out "academics" who will dovetail with our free-range style, do we?  Thanks for sharing the video!
  • I am so dumbfounded with this video I had to take notes. Obviously this is a paid endorsement from someone who knows little about the subject matter. When you look for the true meaning of this video it is all about supply and money. At the end of the video you see several people talking about not being able to meet the demand and how much more expensive it is to produce free range eggs. The major issue I have with these claims is that caged is better. The experts on the video even said chickens in cages are not allowed to do what chickens do naturally, scratch, trim claws, fly, peck, forage, roost, have access to fresh air and sunshine or even spread their wings. Many of the issues they mention about free range chickens are due to overcrowding. I am dumbfounded that they mention caged birds have less cannibalism, I guess that is true as they burn their beaks off when they are hatched, they couldn't peck if they wanted to. If you look at the UEP guidelines, you will see they recommend 60-80 inches of cage per bird, can you imagine? The statement below comes from the UEP website. (Don't tell my chickens but I have never medicated them and I do not plan on starting.) Myth: Cage-free and free-range hens are healthier and require little or no drugs or medicines. Fact: Cage-free and free-range hens require continuous medicated feed for some diseases and often require more drugs than cage hens, because of their constant exposure and contact with litter and waste on barn floors. Hens in cage systems seldom require drugs and only receive medicines or drugs for therapeutic reasons. In fact, hens kept in cage-free, organic, or free-range systems have higher rates of mortality than those kept in cage production systems.  I have raised chickens for 15 years free range and on the ground and have lost few birds. If you drink the Kool-Aid as Mike Rowe did, you can find people in the industry who will tell you it is impossible to raise beef on grass, or to raise pigs on pasture and that raw milk will kill you. From all I can gather from their website, UEP is a group of farmers. That is like letting the fox guard the hen house. When you question these individuals and/or methods, you will usually find that profit, large industry interest or food born pathogen scare tactics drive the discussion. Never once was the nutrition comparison of an egg raised on wire versus grass mentioned. I will invite Mike Rowe to my farm to see my healthy uncaged and unmedicated hens and for him to see how hens in nature do what they were created to do, and I bet for enough money he would say whatever I wanted him to regarding the free range system.

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