Another side of egg production is the battery cage – a byword for cruelty for decades. We are only now, after all this time, on the verge of banning them in the UK.
Come 2012, however, they will be replaced across Europe by – yes you guessed it – another cage. Optimistically described as ‘enriched’, hens are still packed into wire prisons – prisons with a little more space. There is some cursory ‘environmental enrichment’ but there is no escaping the fact that it is still a cage.
Inside the factory
We filmed inside what is probably the largest ‘enriched’ cage unit in Britain, which has already begun operating ahead of the new EU legislation. Owned by Noble Foods – the same outfit that gives us the Happy Egg Company – one shed holds around 125,000 hens. To say that cages stretch almost as far as the eye can see isn’t much of an exaggeration. They also climb upwards tier after tier with multiple gangways running between the stacks of cages.
Fifty per cent of hens in Britain are still caged and despite these supposedly higher welfare cages, the birds we saw were debeaked, as are most hens. The tips of beaks are rich in nerve endings and these are the parts that are sliced off – a painful process that can lead to inactivity and loss of appetite.
This mutilation is supposed to be banned next year but the Government has now delayed it until at least 2016. The purpose is to deny birds the ability to damage each other when the frustration of their lives results in aggression. It doesn’t work.
Bored, desperate and perhaps driven insane, we saw the results of this violence, with one hen removed from her cage injured and frightened after the others had turned on her during their never-ending ordeal of confinement and frustration.
For her there was temporary respite, but in this vast and sunless factory it is perhaps impossible to check on so many hens. A dystopian, futuristic landscape designed for one purpose only: profit!
The future of egg farming in Britain?
Akin to mega-dairies, where cows have been taken from the fields and forced into industrial units, this could be the future for all British hens if we allow it.
This article first appeared in the spring 2011 issue of Viva!life which is free to all Viva! members. Join Viva! today and help fight factory farming!