Cramped, unhygienic, and horrific conditions were recorded by secret camera at two egg farms in Alberta this past summer. The video footage, taken by activist group Mercy for Animals Canada (MFAC), shows chickens being treated with shocking cruelty. Some get “thumped,” a barbaric practice that kills animals by smashing their heads against a hard surface. Chicks are piled in a garbage bag and left to die. Other dead chickens aren’t removed from the cages where live chickens are stuffed in, unable to spread their wings or move around. (You can see the footage here.)
When MFAC showed it to the Egg Farmers of Canada, chairman Peter Clark said the conditions in these two egg farms are a complete aberration from usual industry standards. “That was just totally unacceptable; there’s not one egg farmer in Canada that would agree with that or accept that… It is something that just does not happen in our industry,” Clarke said. And yet, it has happened and cannot be ignored. Clarke is now conducting an investigation into the conditions, including whether the video is an “accurate portrayal.”
I recently wrote about the surprising intelligence of chickens, who can out-perform toddlers on certain math tests, so it’s particularly sickening to hear about the living conditions of these poor chickens in Alberta. Clarke says, “Whatever it takes, we will fix it” -- but what is the best solution to a problem of this magnitude? I’m not convinced by Tim Lambert, head of the Egg Farmers inspection unit, who says that Canadians should have confidence in the self-regulated industry and eggs produced on farms, “since standards are set by a third-party committee of scientists and veterinarians.”
“Third-party committees” are part of the problem with industrialized agriculture these days. People are too far removed from the actual animals. Regulations are important, but they can’t replace a farmer who truly cares for his or her animals and treats them with respect. Large-scale industrial farming is so huge that it’s become completely depersonalized (or "de-animalized"). Farmers can afford only to be concerned with efficiency, in terms of time and money. The two Alberta farms in question contain 126,000 chickens; they can hardly be fed leftover compost scraps and allowed to wander and forage throughout the farmyard.
The best solution, as I see it, is to start supporting small-scale egg farmers. Seek out a local farm where you can buy a few dozen eggs that are so fresh they’re hard to peel, perhaps still a bit dirty, but guaranteed to come from chickens that spend their lives scratching in the dirt as chickens are meant to do.