Warning!! Warning!! Major ranting and raving ahead
Last night I was happily leafing through the recent issue of SAVEUR Magazine, featuring the annual The SAVEUR 100. And there it was.
I WANT EGGS FROM MY OWN CHICKENS TOO!!
Oops. Excuse me for shouting… Okay. I’m fine now…. Sorry about that. I’ll go back to my regular ranting and raving now:
I’m increasingly irritated about the blinders we have on with regards to our behaviour towards the animals that feed us. Last year we watched Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s horrifying examination of battery chickens (channel4.com/food/on-tv/river-cottage/hughs-chicken-run/).
And a couple of days ago, we started watching Food.Inc. We had to turn it off almost immediately. We couldn’t stomach it after seeing a conveyor belt of unsuspecting little (really little) chicks being dumped unceremoniously down to a lower level (we didn’t see where they were being dumped).
The little we saw of Food.Inc was even more appalling than Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Chicken Run” that depicts just what happens on a battery farm.
So. What should we be looking for when we buy our eggs? Here are some guidelines:
Farm fresh, Natural and Vegetarian
A hen in front of the rising sun. A little red barn. Words like “fed vegetarian feed,” “farm fresh” or “Omega-3.” These words and images on egg cartons mean nothing as far as animal welfare is concerned. In fact, eggs in these cartons are from hens in cages.
Omega rich eggs
Despite their logos and the descriptive words on their cartons, Omega-3 and Born-3 eggs are from hens in cages. In order to achieve an omega-3 content similar to that found in eggs from free-range hens, supplements such as flax and fish oils are added to the feed of a battery cage hen in order to boost the omega-3 content in her eggs. Eggs from free-range hens have a naturally occurring level of Omega-3 due to the diet of natural vegetation and insects and grasses that free range hens consume.
excerpt from chickenout.ca: Misleading Egg labels (scroll down on linked page)
Battery Cage Overview
In a battery cage, the rate of food and water, and duration and intensity of light are tightly controlled. There is no access to the natural environment, nor any opportunity to conduct natural behaviours such as perching, dust bathing, wing flapping or nesting. These cages inhibit almost all the natural behaviours of hens
excerpt from chickenout.ca: battery cage overview (vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca/campaigns/chicken-out/#Facts)
free-run eggs come from hens who are kept indoors in large barns. They have no access to the outdoors and may or may not have litter in which to scratch and dust-bathe. They may or may not be overcrowded. […]
free-range eggs come from chickens who have some access to the outside, depending on the weather. They may or may not have litter. They may or may not be overcrowded. They may or may not have access to nests and perches.
excerpt from chickenout.ca: Cage-free definitions vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca/campaigns/chicken-out/#Alternatives)
Alas, none of the vendors at our monthly (weekly during the summer) farmer’s market sell eggs. The last time I asked, several people got really excited because they thought I was selling eggs….
It’s virtually impossible to find suitable eggs and/or chickens in Toronto without going to the high-end, over-priced specialty stores. (I never really trust that the huge markup is actually going to the people who are raising the chickens rather than the middlemen.)
Isn’t close to $5 a dozen for “large” eggs somewhat excessive??
How does a run-of-the-mill middle class family hope to afford eggs at all?
I suppose the questions we should really be asking are
- Just how much should a dozen certified organic, free-range, and/or free-run eggs cost?
- Why is it disallowed for us to keep a couple of hens in our Toronto backyard?
2,012 Canadians were surveyed from December 3rd through December 13th 2009 for chickenout.ca.
December 28, 2009 – Results Suggest Majority of Canadians Want 2010 to be Happier for Hens
When it comes to egg-laying hens, almost two-thirds (63%) of Canadians indicated they would support a legislative ban on battery cages for their province. Battery cages are barren, wire cages that confine an average of five birds per cage, denying hens the ability to engage in any of their natural behaviours, such as nesting, wing-flapping, scratching in the earth, or dust bathing. […] Countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands have all banned the use of battery cages, as will the entire European Union as of 2012, and the State of California in 2015.
excerpt from chickenout.ca
But that’s just a poll. And polls are cheap (no pun intended).
In Ontario, Port Colborne, Orillia and Pickering are “Cage-Free” cities. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear that all of Canada were “Cage-Free” and have adopted resolutions to oppose battery cage egg production?
The Humane Society International/Canada says “Alternatives to eggs from caged hens include certified organic, free-range, free-run and egg replacers”
- Chicken Out (chickenout.ca):
» recommended egg labels (pdf)
» Battery Cage overview
» Cage-Free definitions
- Humane Society Canada (hsicanada.ca):
» The Cage-Free Trend in Canada
» The Truth about Canada’s Egg Industry
- Battery Hen Welfare Trust (bhwt.org.uk):
» help take a hen out of her cage
- Backyard Chickens in Toronto (torontochickens.com):
» Blog “Help for people who would like to keep chickens in Toronto”
» Where is it legal to keep backyard chickens (US and Canada)
» City of Toronto bylaw (Prohibited Animals)
- Urban Chickens (urbanchickens.net):
» 2009 Urban Chickens Year in Review
» the blog egg roll (list includes gems such as “how to build a chicken coop”, “urban chicken underground” and “urban hennery”)
- Monona Doug (mononadoug.blogspot.com):
» posts with label Chickens
» Letter to the Citizens of Monona Wisconsin: Chicken Talk from Alder Chad Speight
- Google Book Search:
» Raising Chickens for Dummies by Kimberly Willis
- Google Book Search: Raising Chickens for Dummies by Kimberly Willis
- CBC news Backyard chickens? Toronto thinking it over (16 June 2009)
It’s especially frustrating that many of the information links on the Humane Society Canada pages go to the US Humane Society pages, which (no surprise) focus on USA only.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing is being done in Canada. It may only mean that whoever is doing something is lacking funds to spread the word.
I do not want to turn to vegetarianism. I don’t mind eating vegetarian food, of course. In fact I’m happy to eat vegetarian food. I’m happy to eat vegetables galore. But I firmly believe that we are omnivores.
However, we don’t have to be monstrous in our omnivorousness.
So. How do we go about spreading the word? Do YOU know how to get all communities to become Cage-Free?
I do believe it’s high time for some action. Not polls. Not petitions. Letters. Letters on paper. Polite, succinct letters that come to the point. Please remember to include your name and address and a request for a reply.
- City of Toronto Food Policy www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=41287dbbfd510410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
- City of Toronto: contacts (Good luck finding out who to contact about how to get Toronto to become cage-free, aside from your councillor)
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
- Contact the minister (current minister: The Honourable Leona Dombrowsky)
- Agriculture and Agrifood Canada
- Contact the Minister (current minister: The Honourable Gerry Ritz)