April 10, 2012. Since switching to a paleo/primal diet I’ve been eating a lot of eggs every week. They are a delicious source of protein and easy to cook. When I was following a vegan diet I discovered the horrors of how hens are treated in factory farms. After watching “Food Inc.” and “The Future of Food,” and reading “Eating Animals”, by Jonathan Safran Foer. I never looked at an egg or a chicken the same way.

I learned that hens are packed into a cage with almost no room to move and never see the light of day. They have their beaks clipped so that they don’t peck each other to death. Yikes! Do I really want to be eating eggs from stressed out hens and do I feel comfortable supporting an industry that is so inhumane?

To get a local perspective, I thought I would visit the Egg Farmers of Alberta to see what they had to say.

“Indoor housing in cages provides a healthy and humane environment for the hens. It supports their natural instinct to cluster together in a comfortable group size which makes for a calm, less aggressive environment. It also protects hens from predators and shelters them from the variable and frequently harsh Canadian climate. Cages are designed to keep manure separate from the hens and the eggs. This is important for food safety because bacteria can pass through the pores of the shell into the egg. Cages ensure a high standard of food safety and egg quality.” http://eggs.ab.ca/egg-industry/faq

Well, that is one way of spinning the situation.

Then I thought I better check out what The Chicken Farmers of Canada had to say.

“Chickens in Canada are raised in clean, well-ventilated, climate-controlled barns, where they can roam freely. The chicken barn is heated before the chicks are placed, in order to ensure they have warm, comfortable surroundings.

Feed systems and water lines are checked daily to ensure that birds always have unrestricted access to food and water.

The main ingredient of all chicken feed (88 per cent) is grains and grain by-products, protein-producing seeds, and meal made from them such as canola or soybean meal. So, essentially, all chickens are “grain-fed.” Heating, ventilation, humidity and other environmental levels are verified constantly, often using top of the line technology, to ensure that the birds are comfortable and stress-free.” http://chicken.ca/on-the-farm/from_the_farm_to_you/the-journey-of-chicken/

Okay, Canadian chickens can roam freely and are stress free? Really? Why are some cartons of eggs so cheap and others so expensive?  It sounds too good to be true. Let’s dig a little deeper.

I also found another perspective on a website from the Vancouver Humane Society.

“Battery cages measure approximately 20” deep by 24” wide (51cm x 61cm) with a height of 14″ (35cm). They have sloping wire floors and provide a barren floor space of between 432 cm and 483 cm squared per bird (Canadian Agrifood Research Council, 2003), with five to seven birds confined in each cage.

 As a result of the intensive confinement, the birds usually have their beaks cut to control aggressive pecking among cage mates. Conditions such as osteoporosis, foot ailments, frustration, and premature death are common among battery hens. These birds spend about a year in battery cages (for a total of 16 to 18 months if they have also been reared in cages) or until their productivity declines. They are then slaughtered and used for chicken by-products or compost.”  http://www.chickenout.ca

Now we have an idea of a hen’s living conditions but I haven’t even mentioned what they eat or why eggs seem to vary in price so much. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Egg Label Confusion.

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