Happy Easter From United Egg Producers, the Battery Cage People
Since TV celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall launched exposes of poultry production in the UK late last year, three quarters of polled consumers said they'd buy free range chicken and eggs and that stores should not carry any other kind.
In the US, more than 300 schools, Burger King and United States House of Representatives are phasing out cage produced eggs--and Wolfgang Puck and Whole Foods Market have completely done so.
Yet United Egg Producers (UEP), the trade group which represents 85% of US egg farms, continues to defend battery cage produced eggs and even disguise them under the illegal label, "Animal Care Certified."
In 2005, in response to Better Business Bureau charges that the label "Animal Care Certified" was misleading, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced the label should read "United Egg Producers Certified" by March 31, 2006.
UEP even paid a $100,000 fine and signed an agreement with Attorneys General in 16 states to settle false advertising claims in 2006.
But the deceptive labels still appear.
"Animal Care Certified" labels appear on UEP egg cartons in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware charges Compassion Over Killing, the animal welfare group which originally filed petitions with the Better Business Bureau and the FTC in 2003 and last month filed a lawsuit against the egg industry and an egg factory farm in New Jersey for consumer fraud.
UEP says the deceptive labels are a "printing error."
Since the cage free movement gained momentum in 2006, US egg sales dropped from 2.02 billion dozen in 2002 to 1.84 billion dozen in 2006, a 8.6 percent decline in just four years.
Of course public perception of eggs as "strokes in a shell" hasn't helped sales. A recent study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation found an egg a day increased the risk of actual heart failure.
But egg production is one of the cruelest forms of animal confinement agriculture most agree.
Even UEP consultant Joy Mench, director of the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California, Davis says, "There's no question the cages restrict the hens' movement" and that the skeletal calcium depleted to produce eggshells leaves hens with weak bones prone to breaking.
Nor do poultry workers have better reports.
"After six weeks in the incredibly crowded cages of this facility, you could not recognize the poor creatures as chickens, " writes an internet commentator of a summer he worked on a egg farm. "Missing most of their feathers, eyes, bloody, broken and unable to walk, our job was to grab these birds, by any means necessary, and throw them into a truck. Where did the truck go? To a chicken soup plant a few towns over. Unable to sell these bruised and battered chickens as whole chickens, the egg plant owners would sell them to be made into soup base. As if their lives were not hellish enough to that point, these birds would be flung, often after being battered against the pillars of the plant and kicked a few times for fun by the sadistic workers, who were mainly teenagers and weird illiterate country bumpkins. The chickens, nearly dead, would be transported in unheated trucks to the soup plant to be battered and likely boiled alive to make soup . . ."
At its annual board meeting in Chicago last October, UEP encountered 35 protestors holding photos of hens in the condition the former poultry worker describes.
"From Shell to Hell," "Egg Producers Torture Birds" and "Ban Battery Cages" read signs and banners outside of the Hyatt Regency while visiting UEP officials discussed the production of the 250 million caged hens that constitute their flock.
At the end of the annual meeting, UEP announced it would develop its first ever guidelines for "hen welfare in cage-free production systems" to begin taking effect April 1, 2008.
Of course, UEP also said it would remove its misleading "Animal Care Certified" labels over two years ago.
Martha Rosenberg is a cartoonist for the Evanston Roundtable in Evanston, Illinois.