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CHICKEN-SHIT: ‘A victory for animals’, so says Peter Singer; but banning cages won’t make eggs humane

The problem isn’t the cages: It’s the factory farming model itself. Any incremental reforms that allow factory farms to operate profitably and without significantly reducing their output don’t actually challenge this model.

JAN DUTKIEWICZ: “A victory for animals.” That’s what philosopher Peter Singer, a luminary of the animal protection movement, called it… when Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox signed into law Bill 147, which mandates that all eggs produced in Utah be produced by cage-free chickens by 2025. With the law, Utah joins eight other states, including California, Colorado, and Massachusetts, that have gone cage-free in recent years. “This is a particularly exciting moment for us,” the Humane Society of the United States, which had lobbied for the change, proclaimed on its website…

Cage-free chickens may seem like a win… The problem is that it’s not clear that going cage-free is actually all that much better for birds. Nor are such laws necessarily a first step toward the massive reforms the egg and poultry industries desperately need… Chickens freed from cages, as they have been in California and will be in Utah, aren’t freed from factory farms…

The damage done by the chicken industry is well documented: Broilers raised for meat chickens are not raised in cages, but in massive barns, many suffering injuries either from overcrowding and poor care or from simply being bred to grow too fast, resulting in lameness and broken bones… The egg industry gets less media attention but is no less hellish… On most egg farms, hens are locked in half-square-foot cages, unable to turn around or spread their wings…

And then there’s chick culling. The egg industry has no need for male birds, since the males of egg-laying breeds can’t be fattened up for slaughter as profitably as broilers. That means that every year about seven billion one-day-old male chicks are killed, usually either poisoned by gas or shredded in high-speed grinders that resemble wood chippers. Eggs, in other words, kill almost as many chickens as chicken meat…

It might seem cynical to criticize consumers and animal rights activists for celebrating victories for animals. Pro-animal groups like the Humane Society of the United States wage comically asymmetric warfare against animal abuse, using whatever means at their disposal to challenge multibillion-dollar agribusiness corporations, and to appeal to the ethics of a public that, by and large, not only eats animals but scorns those who lobby for them…

It might seem cynical to criticize consumers and animal rights activists for celebrating victories for animals. Pro-animal groups like the Humane Society of the United States wage comically asymmetric warfare against animal abuse, using whatever means at their disposal to challenge multibillion-dollar agribusiness corporations, and to appeal to the ethics of a public that, by and large, not only eats animals but scorns those who lobby for them…

But we don’t need to take hard-line positions on animal rights to question the logic of pursuing incremental changes to animal production like going cage-free. Not only are the welfare benefits of cage-free farms questionable, but winning cage-free legislation is hard work… Winning similar victories in hard-line ag states like Iowa and Ohio will be harder. And it’s unclear whether winning cage-free commitments builds momentum for other wins. Even without such regulations, egg producers happily advertise cage-free eggs on cartons and charge premium prices for them.

If groups like HSUS advertise cage-free as a major win for animals, many consumers may be placated that their eggs are humane, after all. Convincing them with future campaigns that that’s not actually the case might not work. And none of this addresses the myriad other harms of chicken agriculture, such as chick culling or the impacts on workers, the environment, and local communities.

The problem isn’t the cages: It’s the factory farming model itself. Any incremental reforms that allow factory farms to operate profitably and without significantly reducing their output don’t actually challenge this model. Think of it as an asymptote on a graph: a line you can approach but never quite reach. Even if groups like HSUS can keep winning incremental concessions, which might slightly improve individual animals’ lives, these will do little to fundamentally change how our food system treats the animals it produces or to stem the expansion of factory farms or meat and egg consumption. Call it the humane paradox: more animals suffering, but each one suffering slightly less…

Sooner or later, Americans will have to confront the mess that is their agricultural system and the impact of their diets. This will require individual and political introspection and change, and it will require much bigger results than Utah delivered last Wednesday. Bill 147 is neither a victory nor a reason to feel better about eating eggs. If anything, it’s a reminder of the scale of the fight ahead. SOURCE…

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