The goal of Chicken OUT! is to improve the quality of life for the millions of egg-laying hens that are cruelly confined in cages.
In Canada, close to 750 million farm animals are slaughtered EVERY year for food. Of those, 660 million are meat chickens and 36 million are egg-laying hens. Nationally, approximately 90% of these hens are confined in cages (battery or enriched). BC has made the most progress in eliminating cages, but 79% of the province’s egg production still comes from caged hens.
Our objective is to increase public awareness of the suffering that caged hens endure so that individuals and organizations can make informed decisions about their egg purchases. We encourage individuals and organizations to purchase eggs produced in higher-welfare cage-free environments, such as certified organic, free-range and free-run eggs. With a shift in consumer demand to cage-free eggs, government and the agricultural industry will be encouraged to adopt more humane housing environments and thus improve the welfare of hens. VHS would like to see the province of BC, and Canada, end the use of cages altogether, in favour of cage-free environments.
Why Egg Laying Hens?
Many people ask us why VHS decided to focus on egg-laying hens versus other farm animals. Our reasoning has to do with the number of animals suffering, the length of time they suffer, and whether or not alternatives are available.
Although in terms of numbers more “broiler” or meat chickens are slaughtered than egg-laying hens, egg-laying hens are confined in tiny cages for 12-18 months, whereas broiler chickens are slaughtered after 40 days. The egg-laying hen thus suffers for a longer duration, and because she is in a cage, she doesn’t even have the “freedom” of the densely populated free-run barn of broiler chickens. As well, although supply of cage-free eggs is still small, consumers do have the option to buy cage-free eggs at most grocery stores, unlike free-range chicken. Furthermore, there are many substitutes for eggs, and fewer substitutes for chicken meat.
Battery Cage Overview
How many chickens can you fit in a cage?
Devised in the 1940s, battery cages were a response to an increase in hen productivity as a result of major breakthroughs in nutrition and breeding (Duncan, 2001). The movement was toward greater automation with a goal of reducing disease transmission while increasing hygiene in the poultry industry. As a result, there was a huge reduction in the number of producers and an increase in the capital investment needed for egg production and processing (BC Egg Producers, 2001). This led to a system that produced the maximum number of eggs for the lowest possible price, as well as seriously compromising the welfare of hens.
Battery barns in Canada hold thousands of cages, each holding four to eight birds, in tiers of two to eight cages high, with farms averaging 18,368 birds (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2006). However, farms can range from anywhere between a few hundred to more than 400,000 hens. The average laying hen produces about 300 eggs per year (25 dozen).
Battery cages measure approximately 20” deep by 24” wide (51cm x 61cm) with a height of 14″ (35cm). They have sloping wire floors and provide a a barren floor space of between 432 cm and 483 cm squared per bird (Canadian Agrifood Research Council, 2003), with five to seven birds confined in each cage. That means that each hen lives her entire life in less space than that of an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper (or, for a more current example, roughly the size of an iPad).
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 (Rollin, 1995).They have been criticized by animal welfare organizations and scientists throughout the world.
Battery cages represent one of the worst manifestations of industrial farming. As a result of the intensive confinement, the birds usually have their beaks cut to control aggressive pecking among cagemates. Conditions such as osteoporosis, foot ailments, frustration, and premature death are common among battery hens. These birds spend about a year in battery cages (for a total of 16 to 18 months if they have also been reared in cages) or until their productivity declines. They are then slaughtered and used for chicken by-products or compost.
Meanwhile, enriched cages fail to address many of the same issues. These cages continue to severely restrict key behaviours like running, full wing-flapping and flying and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing.
Take a Tour
How would you like to be crammed in a cage with 4 others for a year, have your lips cut off, be covered in excrement, never stretch your arms or legs, never see natural daylight, and then, after 12-18 months, have your throat slit. That is what life is like for over 90% of Canada’s egg-laying hens.
See for yourself.
This video begins with about 15 seconds of black.
Click on thumbnails below to view Photos:
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A battery egg “farm” is not a pretty sight. The reality is quite different from most people’s expectation of a farm.
This photo was taken undercover at a farm in the Guelph, Ontario area belonging to LEL Farms and owned by a veterinarian with connections to the University of Guelph. The pictures show birds covered in excrement and crammed into cages so small they can barely move.
In battery cages, there is no space for hens to flap or stretch their wings. When they try, their wings sometimes become trapped in the bars of the cage. Vertical space is limited and hens are often unable to stand up fully and raise their heads without hitting the bars of the cage.
Their beaks are sliced off with a laser or hot blade to prevent pecking at other birds.
The birds are clearly suffering from extreme feather loss, and you will even see some escaped birds left to languish on a pile of manure three feet deep.
Changing your purchasing habits will help change these farming habits. Buy certified organic eggs or choose egg-free alternatives.
To learn more about battery cages and the welfare of egg-laying hens, download the Vancouver Humane Society’s 2005 report (PDF) on battery egg farms. Or, view the summarized 2-page version.
An extensive body of scientific evidence confirms that egg-laying hens confined in barren battery cages suffer immensely. Leading animal welfare scientists and experts from Canada, the US and around the world all concur that hens suffer in cages. Of particular concern is the inability for hens to find a nest site – a fundamentally important behavior for hens. Read the statements of well-known and highly regarded Scientists and Experts on Battery Cages and Laying Hen Welfare, such as Dr. Ian Duncan, Dr. David Fraser, Dr. Joy Mench, Dr. Michael Appleby and Dr. Bernard Rollin.
Farm fresh, Omega-3, Natural and Vegetarian-fed still come from caged hens
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, unless the carton also says free-run, free-range or certified organic, these eggs are from hens in cages.
Despite their logos and the descriptive words on their cartons, Omega-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, insects and grasses that free range hens consume.
In 2007, CBC Marketplace analyzed the difference in omega oil content between certified organic eggs and Omega-3 eggs and found that amounts were negligible. The only real difference between these two types of eggs is that Omega-3 eggs are from hens crammed into tiny wire cages.
In general though, eggs are very poor sources of omega fatty acids. If you want to add omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to your diet, try some of the following high omega foods: flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, winter squash, and spinach.
High omega-3 and -6 oils include: flaxseed, Hemp seed, corn, canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils.
Of course the kindest, most humane choice you can make is to not eat eggs at all, but if you do choose to consume eggs, consider cage-free eggs. When you hear the term “cage-free” in Canada, it refers to one of three different types of production methods: free-run, free-range and organic. An enriched cage, while it does provide more space, is still a cage, and is not considered cage-free. The following provides further details on each of the three cage-free options:
Cage-free Options and Definitions
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.
Generally speaking, 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.
iii) Certified Organic (free-range)
All certified organic eggs come from chickens who have access to an outdoor, organic pasture (e.g. no pesticides or herbicides). They are fed vegetarian, non-gmo feed and are not fed antibiotics or hormones. Research conducted by the Vancouver Humane Society has determined that the most humane systems presently operating in Canada are those monitored by provincial organic certifying associations. In BC, the organization is known as the Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC). Nationally, the program is known as the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). Eggs certified by these organizations are produced in higher welfare systems where hens can behave more naturally.
Learn more about the various certified organic labels.
iv) Animal Welfare Certified
The trend for animal welfare certification has been growing for some years. As the name suggests, these programs differ from organic standards in that their primary focus is the animal’s welfare, not whether the land they roam on is pesticide-free or the feed they are given is free of antibiotics or growth hormones. In the case of eggs, these programs do allow for free-run environments as well (roam indoors, but all behavioral and physical welfare needs must be met). These programs are also less costly to join than the organic programs and are an economical solution for farmers who wish to be recognized for their animal care standards but may not meet or be able to afford the requirements under the organic standards. Unfortunately, relatively few farms are certified under these programs, so finding eggs, dairy and meat products certified humane in your local grocery store may be difficult.
Learn more about the various animal welfare certification programs, labels and logos.
Compare the differences between some of the certified organic and animal welfare certified programs.
Remembering the definition – Egg Label Guide
If you find it difficult to remember what all these labels mean and which logos to look for when you shop at the grocery store, VHS has created a handy, wallet-sized Egg Labelling Guide. Email us and we will send some copies for you, your family and your friends, or download a copy (just print it, cut and fold) and refer to it the next time you shop.
Or, if you prefer to buy your eggs at the farm gate rather than the grocery store, download a list of some of the cage-free egg farms across Canada, organized by region.
Is cage-free truly humane?
Even though cage‐free hens are not kept in cages, it does not mean that this form of egg production is completely humane. When egg production declines, typically after their first year – all hens are sent to slaughter and used for human consumption or for animal feed, or they may be killed on-farm and used for compost. As well, even most cage-free hens have been de-beaked. Furthermore, since male chicks are of no use to the egg industry, they are ground up alive by a macerating machine shortly after they hatch. Because of this, some people choose not to buy eggs at all, and use egg substitutes when possible.
There are a number of alternatives to using eggs, particularly in recipes where eggs are used as a leavening or binding and moistening agent.
For example, if you need to bind ingredients or add moisture to a baked good, use apples, applesauce, water or bananas.
If you need to leaven bread or other baked goods, try Ener-G Egg Substitute. Their egg replacer product mimics what eggs do in baking. A new company called Hampton Creek Foods is developing a line of egg-free mayonnaise and eggless cookie dough (you can eat the dough raw and not worry about salmonella!).
Where eggs are the main dish (such as scrambled eggs), try using tofu or other soy products instead of eggs.
To achieve change, VHS recognizes that simultaneously influencing both consumer demand for and industry supply of cage-free eggs will more expediently phase out the use of cages for hens. On the demand side, VHS works with major institutional buyers of eggs to adopt cage-free egg purchasing policies, as well as educating individual consumers on how to shop more conscientiously through our wallet-sized egg label guide and by working with major grocery chains to implement improved labelling on grocery store shelves, including “eggs from caged hens” labels. We also have been collecting signatures for our petition asking the Minister of Industry Canada to enforce mandatory labelling of egg cartons with reference to eggs from caged hens, similar to legislation in the EU and Australia. Furthermore, we conduct public opinion polls to show governments and corporations that their voters and consumers are opposed to battery cages, hoping this will influence their decisions and policies.
See below for examples of VHS programs and the achievements of our Chicken OUT! campaign.
Cage-Free Egg Purchasing Policies
i) Cage-Free Campuses
Universities and Colleges
Chicken OUT! is working with universities and colleges across the country to end the use of eggs from caged hens in campus food services. Currently over 350 academic institutions in North America have either reduced or eliminated eggs from caged hens on school menus.
In Canada, 18 Canadian academic institutions have reduced or eliminated the use of eggs from battery cage hens. This includes the Universities of Guelph, BC, Simon Fraser, Ottawa, McGill, Concordia, Carleton, Ryerson, Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, Northern BC, Brock, Victoria and Saskatchewan. Colleges include Langara, Humber and York as well as BCIT.
Campuses from coast to coast are rushing to drop eggs from caged hens. Many more are putting the final touches on their more humane egg procurement policies.
ii) Cage-Free Cities
To date, 15 BC municipalities – including major centres such as Richmond, Vancouver, Whistler, Burnaby, Victoria – as well as two Ontario cities, have adopted resolutions opposing battery cage egg production methods. As well the Metro Vancouver Regional District adopted a cage-free egg purchasing policy in February 2009, choosing only to purchase and serve free-range eggs in its cafeteria.
Download an example of the municipal cage-free egg purchasing policy resolution that has been adopted by city councils.
iii) Cage-Free Companies
Chartwells/Compass Group Canada – a leader in Ethical Purchasing and Distribution
Compass Group Canada is committed to a sustainable future. As Canadian leaders in food and support services, they integrate sustainable business practices, policies, and programs into their corporate culture.
With regard to cage-free eggs, Chartwells – the education dining-service division of Compass Group Canada, is committed to working with qualified suppliers of eggs from cage-free hens to implement cage-free shell egg policies in Canadian university and college campus food venues. They would be pleased to expand their commitment to cage free shell eggs into any Canadian college or university site. All a school has to do is ask!
Cage-free eggs can now be found at most grocery stores, but some grocers have elected to only sell 100% cage-free eggs. We hope their lead will help inspire other retailers to do the same. View a list of Vancouver food retailers that sell only cage-free eggs.
As part of its ongoing commitment to “Real Food” using simple ingredients, Unilever announced in April 2010 that its “1/2 the Fat” mayonnaise recipe will feature free-run eggs. Hellmann’s is manufactured by Unilever in both Canada and the US. Mayonnaise sold in Canada will be made with free-run eggs from Canadian producers.
Hellmann’s® 1/2 the Fat mayonnaise is the first consumer product of its stature and volume in the packaged foods industry to use 100 per cent free-run eggs – which equates to approximately 841,000 pounds (382,000 kilograms) of eggs in Canada. This means 21,950 hens in Canada will be spared from life in a cage.
No one wants to support egregious animal cruelty when they dine out, but if you are ordering an egg item (e.g. omelette, eggs benny, etc.) you may be inadvertently buying eggs from battery-caged hens. Please ask the restaurant managers and eateries you frequent to start offering certified organic eggs as an alternative. Let them know you understand that they may need to add an extra charge, but if it means a better life for the animals, it is worth it. After all, many restaurants already support the idea of serving more ethically produced “Fair Trade Coffee”, so why should cage-free eggs be any different?
Download a list of restaurants in Metro Vancouver and Victoria offering cage-free egg items on their menus.
In March of 2012, VHS initiated a petition campaign using Change.org asking Tim Hortons to stop using eggs from caged hens and pork from crated sows. In the month and a half leading up to their Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Shareholders in May, we collected over 50,000 signatures for presentation at their AGM in Toronto. That same month, the Tim Hortons restaurant chain announced they would be making some improvements to animal welfare in its supply chain. They committed to phasing out gestation crates from pork suppliers, and will purchase 10% of their eggs from hens in enriched housing by the end of 2013. Although a minor improvement, we commend them for doing more than any other major restaurant chain in Canada, but we will continue to encourage them to choose CAGE-FREE eggs for a greater percentage of their egg purchases.
Grocery Store Egg Labelling Improvements
Mandatory disclosure labelling of “eggs from caged hens” has already been implemented throughout the European Union and Australia, but not in North America…until now. Starting in 2011, VHS initiated a program with a major Canadian grocery store chain – Overwaitea Food Group – to pilot improved signage on their store shelves.
The labels and signage indicated which eggs came from hens housed in free-run, free-range and certified organic egg production systems, and more importantly, which came from caged hens. The signs also provided details about the housing and behavioural aspects of each type of production system, and the labels were color coded red (for caged eggs), yellow (for free-run and free-range eggs) and green (for organic eggs). See page 2 of our Spring 2012 newsletter for images of the signs.
Customer comments about the in-store labelling signs were very positive and the two stores in the pilot saw a transition in consumer purchases away from regular cage eggs to cage-free eggs as well as a transition in purchases from free-run eggs to free-range and organic. We will soon be implementing signs in all 124 of Overwaitea Food Group’s stores.
In the spring of 2013, VHS also initiated a trial of shelf labels with a second grocery chain, MarketPlace IGA. We changed the colors slightly and reduced some of the wording so the labels could fit along the shelf edges. See page 2 of our Summer 2013 newsletter for images of these signs.
If you want to see improved signage at YOUR local grocery store, we can help! Contact VHS and let us know! We will speak to their management team about implementing improved labels.
Egg Labelling Petition
VHS launched a petition asking the Canadian Government to make it mandatory to label all eggs from battery caged hens as “eggs from caged hens”. This type of labelling would allow consumers to make educated choices, and it would be consistent with current European Union legislation.
Please ask your friends to take one too and collect signatures. Ask your local library, grocery store, fitness centre, launderette or any other place you visit frequently, to display one on their counter or on their message board. Once you’ve completed the page (or pages) mail the signed petition pages back to us at the VHS office.
Government and Egg Industry Initiatives
BC’s Farm Industry Review Board
In BC (and the rest of Canada), eggs are one of 5 supply-managed, animal-derived food products. The BC Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) has the authority to permit or prohibit the production of eggs within BC through establishment of a quota system, and has been vested with the authority to set prices, to license producers and processors and to fix levies.
The British Columbia Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) is an administrative tribunal that has statutory responsibility for general supervision of the BCEMB. As an independent tribunal, BCFIRB’s role is to ensure that the public interest is served and protected.
During the summer of 2010, BCFIRB held a public review on two key issues: 1. specialty and new entrant programs for egg production in BC; and 2. a proposal by the BCEMB to increase egg production in the province by roughly 3.5%.
Interested parties and stakeholders were asked to submit their comments. VHS submitted a seven-page response on how to improve the transparency and fairness of the lottery process used to select new cage-free egg farmers. View the submissions of VHS and other stakeholders concerning the lottery process.
VHS also submitted a 16-page response to the BCEMB’s proposal to place an additional 99,534 hens into registered production in B.C. Of this, only 22,768 hens could be guaranteed to go to cage-free farms. VHS recommended that all new quota for hens be destined for cage-free production, and preferably certified organic free-range farms. View the submissions of VHS and other stakeholders concerning the intended increase in production.
VHS then spoke to the BCEMB and the BCFIRB at a public hearing in Abbotsford to reiterate our positions on both issues. BCFIRB was persuaded to make some adjustments in favour of more transparency surrounding the new producer program and lottery process, and more cage-free production. View the decision reached by BCFIRB.
VHS continues to urge the egg industry to more quickly transition their flocks to cage-free housing, and preferably certified organic free-range farms. As of 2017, approximately 21% of BC’s provincial egg production now comes from cage-free farms, far greater than the rest of Canada which averages only 10% cage-free production.
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For several years, VHS commissioned Harris Decima Research to conduct a national poll to determine Canadians’ attitudes toward the humane treatment of farm animals. The most recent poll was conducted in the winter of 2010. Some interesting findings were that 65 per cent of Canadians and 68 per cent of British Columbians said a politician’s stance on the welfare of farm animals could affect their vote.
In terms of who is the most compassionate, British Columbians led the way for a third year in a row, with 80 per cent saying they would be willing to pay more for farm animal products that were certified to humane standards by a third party organization, and 72 per cent supported a ban on battery cages for egg-laying hens. The national average for each of these questions was 72 and 68 per cent respectively. Download highlights of the 2010 and 2009 polls.
VHS’s achievements and ongoing programs for ChickenOUT! have been made possible through individuals’ donations and from foundation grants. We would like to thank, in particular, the following foundations and organizations for their significant support and contributions over the years:
- Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals (CETFA)
- Eden Trust Foundation
- Humane Society International/Canada (HSI/Canada)
- Small Potatoes Urban Delivery (SPUD)
- The late Peter R.U. Stratton Foundation (now known as the Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada)
- Vancity Community Project Grants Program
- Vancity Community Foundation
- The Vancouver Foundation
- William and Charlotte Parks Foundation for Animal Welfare
Take Action, Spread the Word
Egg Label Guide for consumers – wallet-sized (also available in Mandarin)
Petition for Mandatory Egg Labelling
Cage-Free Restaurants (in Vancouver and Victoria)
Cage-Free Farms in Canada
The Good Egg – our original public service announcement (created 2005)
Battery Cages and the Welfare of hens in Canada – Full Report
Battery Cages and the Welfare of hens in Canada – 2-page summary
Influences of demographic characteristics, attitudes and preferences of consumers on table egg consumption in BC – by Masoumeh Bejaei
2009 Summary – Harris Decima Opinion Poll
2010 Summary – Harris Decima Opinion Poll
Photos and Video Footage
- Undercover photographs (below)
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- 2005 FOOTAGE Inside Clark Egg Farms Ltd.
- View the inside of a Canadian battery (egg) barn in Ontario, Canada. (video begins with about 20 seconds of black screen)
- Egg Alternatives
- Faux Egg Salad
- Pumpkin Pie
- Scrambled Eggless Eggs
- Soy Milk Mayonnaise
- Tofu Mayonnaise
- Chocolate Cake
- Vanilla Cake
Other Useful Links
- Animal Welfare Institute (AWI)
- BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA)
- Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA)
- Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farm Animals (CETFA)
- Compassion Over Killing (COK)
- Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)
- Food & Water Watch
- Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC)
- Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
- Humane Society International/Canada (HSI/Canada)
- John Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future (JHU)
- Mercy for Animals Canada (MFA Canada)
- Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (NCIFAP)
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
- United Poultry Concerns (UPC)
- Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS)
- World Society for the Protection of Animals Canada (WSPA Canada)