One of the things that I discovered after starting to read vegan literature is that "free range" doesn't mean what I thought it did. Before going vegan, I used to buy eggs marked "free range" or "cage free" -- and I felt pretty good about that. In my mind, I was eating what was basically a waste product (an unfertilized egg), produced by a chicken that was living a pretty good life. As conventional wisdom holds, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Many people believe that egg production is less abusive to chickens than other factory farming processes, and therefore a vegetarian diet is an acceptable way to boycott animal cruelty. Well, here's some more food for vegetarian thought:
- In the U.S. there are no laws or government standards regulating the use of free-range, free roaming, or free-walking on egg cartons.
- Free-range simply means the birds are uncaged. This does not necessarily mean the birds have access to the outdoors. There is no industry standard defining how free-range hens are to be housed.
- Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed where the hens are kept.
- It is common for free range hens to be debeaked, the practice of severing the tip of the sensitive beak, without anesthesia. This is done to reduce stress-pecking and fighting due to overcrowding.
- it is common for free range hens to be "force molted," a standard commercial practice in which food is withheld from hens for up to two weeks to induce egg production.
- Egg-laying chickens don't grow fast enough to be raised profitably for meat, so the male chicks are killed upon hatching. Typically they are ground up or suffocated.
- "Spent" hens (those which no longer produce enough eggs) are thrown into small crates and trucked to the slaughterhouse without any protection from the elements, often traveling hundreds of miles without food or water. They often suffer from broken wings and legs, and many die from the stress of the journey.
- And finally, their legs are snapped into shackles, their throats are cut, and they are immersed in scalding hot water to remove their feathers. Chickens and other birds are exempt from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, so most are still conscious when their throats are cut open, or are still alive when they reach the feather-removal tanks and wind up being scalded to death.
And I haven't even talked about the rampant salmonella.
It's like what your parents always said, there's no such thing as a free (range) lunch.