Saturday afternoon, with an armed off-duty police officer inches from my face, I carried bloodied model eggs and told first person stories of chickens who died producing eggs for Whole Foods. Beside several activists cramming themselves inside cages, I told first person stories of chickens who died producing eggs for the store. In front of signage that proclaimed the animal welfare standards of the corporation, we held our own signs that read “Animals’ lives are their right”, “It’s not food, it’s violence” and “Their bodies, not ours”. The store’s security guard attempted to shout down myself and seventeen other activists while we challenged Whole Foods who, along with a growing number of corporations, uses misleading and fraudulent labeling to imply that the eggs they sell are humane.
Recently, investigators with Direct Action Everywhere, the same grassroots animal rights network that organized this protest, entered a Certified Humane cage free egg farm and saw conditions that would horrify any reasonable person. Birds were crammed shoulder to shoulder in barns. They lost their feathers from stress. Some birds grew too weak to access food and water and resorted to cannibalism. We saw birds attacking each other and a dead bird decapitated by others. We rescued Ella, a hen who was mostly bald from starvation. We brought her to the vet and gave her a home in a sanctuary, where she will live out the rest of her life safe, happy, and free.
People who know firsthand how hens live have a hard time denying that hens who live in battery cages live horrific lives. Male chicks are mass culled immediately after being sexed. Beaks are cut off without anesthetic. Birds suffer osteoporosis and reproductive cancers from excessive egg laying. Hens are even starved for weeks at a time to force molting and reinvigorate egg laying.
It may surprise consumers that each of these facts are true of chickens in cage free farms, despite aggressive marketing of their eggs as humane. Companies that sell cage free eggs are able to charge more, although these eggs are less costly to produce. It’s time to stop the fraudulent marketing and constant search for a right way to do the wrong thing. Chickens, fish, cows, and pigs are all sentient animals who exhibit signs of pain, joy, and complex social relationships. The humane alternative to conventional eggs isn’t cage free, pasture raised, or any new label for exploitation.
To do right by animals we must grant them basic rights and liberate them completely. Under our current legal system, animals are treated as property and cannot be represented in court. Already weak animal welfare laws are seldom enforced to protect farmed animals. In fact, there is no federal law that protects chickens and turkeys on farms. We ask that readers consider animals as the individuals they are, join the animal rights movement, and speak up for the most vulnerable in our society.
Eva Hamer lives in Chicago and is an organizer with the grassroots animal-rights network Direct Action Everywhere. DxE uses disruptive protests, open rescue, and community building to denormalize violence against animals.