Recent hidden camera footage exposed animal rights abuses at two Burnbrae supply farms in Alberta (see below). Burnbrae has since suspended egg purchases from the farms shown, but the video raises questions about the ethics of run-of-the-mill battery cage conditions for conventional egg-layers. Hens are tightly confined in wire cages with 67 to 69 square inches per bird (the size of a sheet of paper), with no nest, perch or access to the outdoors. Burnbrae's new "Nestlaid" eggs come from hens given perches and a nesting area in a "furnished cage environment."
Rowe's regular eggs now come from the larger "enhanced caged housing environment" standard in Europe (where battery cages are banned), with perches, scratch pads and nests - and 110 square inches per bird. Rowe's Green Valley-brand eggs come from free-run hens in large open-concept barns. Both groups of hens are exposed to eight hours of darkness (unlike industrial egg operations) and are fed no animal by-products, though their feed isn't GMO-free. Rowe says it'll soon be selling certified organic (GMO-free) eggs.
$4.85/dozen for Green Valley
PC ORGANIC/NATUREGG ORGANIC
Conditions in large certified-organic egg facilities are pretty standardized. Both these supermarket brands use certified-organic, GMO-free feed and house hens in free-run open-concept barns on an industrial scale, with a minimum eight hours of darkness and a maximum of six birds per square metre. Organic standards for organic eggs outlaw dead mammal/avian feed as well as antibiotics. While organic hens are supposed to have some sort of access to the outdoors, neither PC nor Naturegg (Burnbrae) claims to raise hens on pasture.
These certified organic cluckers live on mixed farms of the Old MacDonald variety. They're housed in open-concept barns but are mostly out on pasture until temps plummet. Most hens live in flocks of about 500; the largest is 3,200. Their feed is vegetarian, apart from the bugs they munch in the field. Farmer-owned cooperative.
SMALL FLOCK'S DELIGHT
As guilt-free as eggs get. This cooperative of Amish farmers raises hens in small flocks of 100 to 500 birds in tents on pasture. Weather permitting, tent doors are left open. These happy hens eat grass or organic GMO-free grain and veggie scraps, with full access to nest boxes and perches - though the eggs themselves are not certified organic. When the World Society for the Protection of Animals visited, there was no evidence that hens were pecking each other the way free-run hens have been known to. Pastured Nutri Spring Eggs are also a top pick. From $7.99/dozen at Big Carrot
Footage of nasty stuff at Egg farms puts McDonald's in the fryer
An undercover W-5 investigation into Canadian egg farms, aired October 18, has sent the egg industry scrambling and McDonald's dodging calls to ban the use of eggs from battery-caged hens in its McMuffins.
Graphic hidden-camera footage by Mercy for Animals Canada was filmed last summer at facilities housing up to 120,000 hens each. It shows thousands of birds - some injured, some dead - crammed inside filthy wire cages, and workers violently smashing the heads of chicks (a practice known as "thumping") and bagging them in plastic while some are still alive.
Turns out the two Alberta egg farms caught on tape supply Burnbrae, the country's largest egg brand. Burnbrae also happens to be McDonald's sole supplier of eggs, though it says no Alberta eggs go to the Golden Arches.
McDonald's and Burnbrae both issued statements saying they're firmly committed to animal welfare. Says McD's: "We believe animals should be free from cruelty, abuse and neglect - abuse is never tolerated in our supply chain and McDonald's has strict policies concerning the treatment of animals that our suppliers must adhere to." The chain didn't explain how it enforces these policies, and McDonald's didn't respond to Ecoholic's request for an interview.
Mercy for Animals Canada director of operations Stephane Perrais says McDonald's should not be getting eggs from battery-caged hens. The practice is banned in California, New Zealand and Europe, where Perrais notes that McDonald's took a leadership role in switching to free-range eggs. Here in Canada, 98 per cent of hens are still wedged in battery cages.
The chair of Egg Farmers of Canada released a statement insisting the conditions shown are an unfortunate anomaly. "I have visited hundreds of Canada's more than 1,000 egg farms. I have never seen hens treated in the manner shown. I share in the public's response to the video. The images are unacceptable. However, I object to any perception that this is in any way common, tolerated or representative."
But is anyone watching the henhouse to know for sure? There are no federal regulations on how to raise farm animals, so at this point voluntary guidelines put out by the industry-run National Farm Animal Care Council are all there is. The NFACC's code of practice, for instance, recommends giving hens 67 square inches each, about the size of standard school notebook. It also okays cervical dislocation, aka thumping, and live grinding of "nonsalable" chicks.
Jamie Cooney, CEO of Rowe Farms, says the sights in the video are more common than the industry is letting on.
He notes that the free-run industry as a whole has a 5 to 10 per cent mortality rate from aggressive birds turning cannibalistic, though he says Rowe's meat poultry barns have almost a zero per cent mortality rate because they provide plenty of food and keep the lights dim to reduce agitation. Adds Cooney, "Consumers want $2.50 eggs; then we're horrified when we see what's involved in making them at that price."
Speaking of cheap eggs, MFA Canada is calling on McDonald's Canada to step up and ban battery cages. To nudge the mega-corp in the right direction, go to eggmcmisery.ca.
FIRST NATIONS OIL PULLOUT
Between Greenpeacers chaining themselves to Vancouver's Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal, local Line 9 rallies and swelling solidarity with Mi'kmaq anti-fracking protests, it's been a bustling month in fossil fuel resistance. But the expression of dissent most unsettling to the Conservatives has to be the Fort McKay First Nation's withdrawal from Alberta's Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program.
The federal-provincial program, first announced in early 2012, was touted as proof Canadian officials were taking serious steps toward adequate enviro oversight. On October 8, the Fort McKay First Nation, a community 60 kilometres downstream from Fort McMurray, walked away from JOSM, calling it "a frustrating and futile process.''
"Communities like ours and other First Nations have thoughts on what should be monitored, to what intensity when and where, and that hasn't entirely been factored in," Dan Stuckless, Fort McKay's environmental affairs manager, tells Ecoholic.
Stuckless says JOSM itself was doing sound research, pointing to the recent study on rising levels of mercury in local bird eggs. But it's not clear whether both levels of government will be required to act on such findings. Asks Stuckless, "When you get information that's concerning or requires some management decision to be made - will they actually be made?"
Word is, both the province and feds are now scrambling to keep Fort McKay at the table. If the feds can't prove they're taking First Nations input into account, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has said it would consider leaving, too. If this happens, the program would lose what it desperately needs to placate prospective bitumen buyers in the U.S. and Europe: legitimacy.