March 28, 2013
Easter is the most important Christian holiday of the year, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the 40 days before Easter Sunday — known as Lent — are a time of reflection and penance. But for many children Easter Sunday means Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and the classic dilemma of whether to eat the ears or feet first.
The National Confectioner’s Association estimates that 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are made for the holiday each year and seven billion pounds of candy are consumed — second only to Halloween. That’s a lot of chocolate bunny ears but it pales in comparison to the tens of millions of eggs that are dyed just for Easter festivities. Question is, have you ever thought about where those eggs come from?
Each year, 95 per cent of Canada’s 26 million egg-laying hens are confined for 12 to 18 months in tiny battery cages. In other words, all regular white eggs — those most often used for Easter — come from hens housed in these cramped spaces. Devised in the 1940s, battery cages created a movement toward greater automation in farming practices and a consequential reduction in the number of farmers. This led to a system that produced the maximum number of eggs for the lowest possible price, while seriously compromising the welfare of hens — hens laying the very eggs you’re decorating this Easter.
Each battery cage holds five to seven birds, which means each hen lives her entire life in less space than the size of a standard sheet of paper (or the size of an iPad for you tech-savvy readers). Thousands of these cages are then stacked two to eight tiers high in windowless sheds that, on average, house more than 18,000 birds, and sometimes reach as many as 400,000 hens. The hens have no access to the natural environment and are completely prohibited from conducting natural behaviours such as perching, dust bathing, wing flapping, or nesting.
While the most humane act you can do is not to eat eggs at all, there are more humane egg production methods to choose from if you do eat eggs. Look for egg carton labels that say “free-run,” “free-range,” and “organic.” These labels may be confusing to many, but what is important to note is that no cages are involved in any of these production methods. Generally speaking, free-run eggs come from hens which roam indoors in large windowless sheds with no access to the outdoors.
Free-range eggs come from chickens which have some access to the outside, depending on the weather. Finally, certified organic eggs are considered the most humane system as the standards require hens live one third of their lives outdoors (most with pastures) when they are not roaming free in a barn with perches, nests and bathing areas. The hens are fed organic, vegetarian feed and certified organic farms are inspected annually to meet the established animal welfare standards.
Ideally, our goal should be an “Eggless Easter” but, after centuries of established tradition have formed around this joy-filled holiday, this goal is likely out of the question. However, is it too much to ask to at least consider purchasing one of the more humane egg production methods for your Easter basket needs? Yes, cage-free eggs are more expensive, and if you don’t plan on eating the contents, having to pay more seems a shame. But shouldn’t we apply compassion no matter what we plan to use them for, even if — or especially if — it’s just for decoration? You may be surprised to learn that when using saturated Greek-dyes on cage-free brown eggs, they produce beautiful, deep, jewel-toned egg shells (see photo). So, if you’re unable to put hen welfare ahead of your decorating needs this Easter, perhaps you will be inspired by the dramatic beauty of a dyed cage-free egg.
To learn more about egg production methods and what you can do to make a difference this Easter (and any time you purchase eggs), please visit www.chickenout.ca.