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Gage Fight

Tags: animal hens egg

Bill Maher among many things is an Animal activist. This is his op ed from 2015

Free the Hens, Costco!

JULY 9, 2015

I LIKE Costco. We backed the same presidential candidate in the past few elections, and I like its generous wages and willingness to give its employees health care. And of course I agree with it on gay rights.

I’ve also been impressed by Costco’s support for animal protection. For example, the company mandated that its suppliers stop locking pregnant pigs in cages called gestation crates by 2022. So I don’t understand how Costco can justify its refusal to set a timeline for getting rid of eggs from battery cages, which is the third system, along with pork and veal, in the factory farming cruelty trifecta.

According to the industry itself, each hen in a battery cage is given less than 9 inches by 9 inches in which to live her entire life, crammed into a cage about the size of a file drawer with four or more other hens. (Costco sells some eggs that are organic and cage-free, but the vast majority are not.)

Make no mistake about it: Battery cages torment animals. Physically, the animals’ muscles and bones waste away from lack of use, just as yours would if you were unable to move around for two years.

That’s why multiple investigations into battery cages document animals with deteriorated spinal cords, some who have become paralyzed and then mummified in their cages. It’s so common that the industry has a name for it: cage layer fatigue. It doesn’t happen to animals that are allowed to move.

Even after an undercover video recently documented a Costco egg supplier locking birds in cages with the mummified corpses of their dead cage mates, Costco responded that the supplier was “behaving appropriately.”

Mentally, the birds, which can perform comparably to dogs on scientific animal behavior tests, go insane in these tiny cages. Imagine cramming five cats or dogs into tiny cages, hundreds of thousands in each shed, for their entire lives. That would warrant cruelty charges, of course. But when the egg industry does it to hens, it’s considered business as usual.

That’s why, in a ballot measure, the people of California banned the cages in 2008, reportedly by a margin greater than in any previous initiative.

Many consumers just don’t want them. In 2007, Costco said that it didn’t want them either; it promised to stop selling eggs from hens that are confined in cages, but almost 10 years later, the company has yet to release a timeline.

So Costco, which has generally been in front of the curve of social values, is now lagging. Unilever, which produces Hellmann’s mayonnaise, will be 100 percent cage-free by 2020. So will some of the largest food-service companies — including Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group. Burger King will be 100 percent cage-free by 2017, and Whole Foods hasn’t sold caged eggs in more than a decade.

At Costco though, there’s no end in sight for this hideously outdated and cruel practice. A company that takes pride in its other socially conscious positions can do better than this.

Costco, please, free the hens already.

Or Mark Bittman who has since left the Times to work for a food "incubator" company the year prior in 2014 in response to the California prop that became law regarding caged hens which is what Bill Maher is referring.

Hens, Unbound

Mark Bittman
DEC. 31, 2014

The most significant animal welfare law in recent history — California’s Prop 2 — takes effect today. The measure, which passed by a landslide vote in 2008, requires egg and some meat producers to confine their animals in far more humane conditions than they did before. No longer will baby calves (veal) or gestational pigs be kept in crates so small they cannot turn around and, perhaps more significantly, egg-laying hens may not be held in “battery” cages that prevent them from spreading their wings.

The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.

Does limiting confinement for hens mean the end of cages? Maybe. It might become impractical for growers to build bigger cages; that is, it might be easier simply to keep hens in groups that meet the new minimum area required per bird, and so keep the hens “cage free.” That’s not a panacea, but it is an improvement.

The new minimum is not specified in numbers, but the courts have said that it “establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the law enforcement officer to have the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation.” Hens must be able to spread their wings without touching a cage or another bird.

There is, however, another new state regulation — the so-called shell egg food safety regulation, aimed at reducing salmonella — enacted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This requires a minimum of 116 square inches per bird, compared with the current 67 square inches, which is less space than an 8-by-10 photo, and just a tad more than a standard iPad.

Prop 2 trumps this rule, and birds probably need more than 116 square inches to spread their wings. In fact, many experts think something closer to 200 square inches is more realistic. But some farmers may think they can get away with 116; law enforcement will determine whether they’re right, and noncompliance is a criminal offense.

The new regulations will probably raise the price of eggs. Surprisingly, as producers in California switch production systems to comply with the new law, eggs raised by so-called conventional means sometimes cost more than cage-free eggs. This belies the arguments that the conversion process is difficult or prohibitively expensive; it just shows that many producers failed to take advantage of the five years between the extension of the new housing standards to all birds, and its taking effect, to adequately prepare. What have they been doing instead? Predictably, filing lawsuits fighting Prop 2, all of which have failed.

That Prop 2 is supported by a majority of people in the country’s biggest ag state, and that its legitimacy has been supported by courts, shows the direction in which the raising of animals is headed. Gestation crates are on their way out, and battery cages will soon join them. With this measure, the table is set for similar action in states all over the country.

“We’ve worked on passing anti-confinement laws in 10 states now,” says Paul Shapiro, a spokesperson at the Humane Society of the United States. At least three other states are to take up similar legislation in 2015.

The most important part of the new law may be that every whole egg sold in California must adhere to the standards set by Prop 2, regardless of where it’s from. And since California can’t raise all the eggs eaten by its citizens, millions of those eggs — perhaps as many as a third consumed in the state — will come from elsewhere. From Iowa, for example, where more than 14 billion eggs are produced each year. (Interesting: There are just over 3 million people in Iowa, and nearly 60 million laying hens.) There has been talk of shortages, but they would be short-lived.

So, in California, just as you had to meet higher emission standards than required by federal law if you wanted to sell cars, now you must meet higher welfare standards for hens if you want to sell eggs. Whether farmers comply, or disobey, or leave the business remains to be seen. But Prop 2 means a new norm; eventually it will be, well, normal.

Just how high are the standards set by Prop 2? “By itself, the law means that many millions of animals will no longer be held in cramped cages, and that’s huge,” says Mr. Shapiro. “But the message it sends to the factory farming industry is clear: Business as usual — that is, subjecting animals to torturous conditions for their entire lives — is no longer going to be acceptable.”

And here is the response to that today:

How ‘Cage-Free’ Hens Live, in Animal Advocates’ Video

OCT. 20, 2016

After years of pressure from animal advocates, dozens of food companies have committed themselves to “cage-free” eggs produced by hens not living in the cramped quarters known as battery cages.

Now, however, some of those same advocates are turning their attention via video cameras on the farms where cage-free eggs are produced. Using some of the same tactics that drove food companies to move away from caged hens, advocates are asking whether the conditions for the cage-free chickens are much better.

On Thursday, Direct Action Everywhere, an all-volunteer animal advocacy group, released a video of a stealth visit to a cage-free barn in California that produces eggs sold at Costco under its private label brand, Kirkland. The video shows dead birds on the floor and injured hens pecked by other chickens. One bird had a piece of flesh hanging off its beak.

The video focuses on a hen that Direct Action rescued and named Ella. When the organization found her in the cage-free barn, she was struggling to pull herself up and had lost most of her feathers. Her back was covered in feces.

“There were birds rotting on the floor, and there was one dead bird that seemed to have lost her head,” said Wayne Hsiung, who helped make the video for the group, which is better known as DxE. “There were birds attacking birds, and the smell was horrible.”

The egg industry has long warned that hens living cage-free in aviary systems will experience higher mortality rates and more disease. Research by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, which is financed by egg producers and food companies, found “substantially worse” levels of aggression and cannibalism in cage-free systems, also known as aviary systems, compared with caged systems. It has also found more damage to the birds’ sternums.

“Consumers have an idyllic vision of what cage-free farming looks like,” Mr. Hsiung said. “They need to be shown the truth, which is that cage-free is far from humane.”

Yet, partly in response to graphic videos and reports about the conditions of caged chickens, consumers pressured companies from McDonald’s to Walmart and Costco to turn to cage-free eggs. Those companies have rushed to promise buying only cage-free eggs in the years to come, which has pushed egg producers to invest tens of millions of dollars in aviary systems. Many animal rights activists have applauded those commitments.
A video still of a chicken at a cage-free barn in Pleasant Valley Farms in Farmington, Calif. Credit Direct Action Everywhere

Direct Action, which mounts protests on the treatment of animals with a goal of ending meat consumption, decided to test these companies. The group bought a carton of cage-free eggs sold under Kirkland, and traced them back to Pleasant Valley Farms, an egg producer in Farmington, Calif.

Volunteers from Direct Action shot the video over several visits to the barns in late September and early October. Most, but not all, of the video was taken at night. The group did not seek permission to enter the farm, Mr. Hsiung said, but he argued that the group had not broken any laws because they had suspected animal cruelty and that gave them a right to enter the property.

On Thursday evening, though, Pleasant Valley released a statement describing the group’s actions as a “break-in and trespassing” and criticized the content of the video. “The video does not accurately show what truly goes on in our barns and appears to be staged for production effect,” the farm said.

Pleasant Valley said that because members of Direct Action may have contaminated the barn, the company had destroyed all the birds in it.

Costco said in a statement that the video appeared to involve just one barn out of the many that it uses to supply the eggs sold under its Kirkland brand.

“We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation,” the company said.

Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said that cage-free hen housing was without a doubt better than battery cages, though not without problems.

He noted that an assessment by researchers in the Netherlands that ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10 gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages were 0. “With companies like Costco,” he said, “it’s better to welcome them for taking the first steps rather than punish them for not taking the last step.”

But Mr. Hsiung said that people should understand more about what the cage-free conditions are like.

“I give animal rights activists credit for pressuring corporations to make a change,” he said. “Whether this is the right change is up for debate.”

So the adage goes: "Careful what you wish for." Well in a reality world of compromise no one seems to win. We have a lot of problems when it comes to animal welfare and how we raise and treat animals for our food supply. So the answer to to the question: "How do your like your eggs" has a much more complex answer than, "cage free."

As another adage goes: "You are what you eat." We are eating violence, toxins and tragedy. I think it explains a lot in this country.

This post first appeared on Green Goddess VV, please read the originial post: here

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