A “Bright Spot”?

A Media Release (October 25, 2007) from Animal Rights International (ARI) President Peter Singer announced that ARI has placed billboard-style ads on New York buses for a month. These ads apparently show how battery eggs are produced. In the Release, Singer explains how terrible battery cages are. Singer states: “‘Battery cages are being phased out in Europe—why are we lagging behind?'” Singer claims that “there is a bright spot in this dark picture”:

Cage-free eggs, while presently only about five percent of sales, are the fastest growing segment of the market. As more people become aware of the enormous suffering inflicted on caged layers, they often choose to spend a few extra pennies for a more humanely produced egg. ARI hopes that by reminding New Yorkers that breakfast comes at a price for hens, many will spend a little more to get them out of the cages.

The ARI/Singer Release is problematic in at least three respects.

First, although the European Union has banned the traditional battery cage as of 2012, the European egg industry is currently seeking a delay of the effective date of the ban. Moreover, egg producers are free under the European ban to use “enriched cages,” which even conservative animal welfare organizations, such as Compassion in World Farming, maintain “fail to overcome many of the welfare problems inherent in the battery cage system.”

Patty Mark of Animal Liberation Victoria points out that a large battery hen factory built in 2002 in New South Wales (where approximately one million birds are currently caged)—

imported their shiny new battery cages from Europe and they made sure they got the cages (designed to comply with the 2012 ban) that can easily be “changed over” to “enriched cages” should Australia also “ban” the battery cage. That is, they simply have to make some minor adjustments—take out a hen or two and put in an abrasive strip and a ‘nest box’ instead. There will still be row after row of battery hens in cages stacked six tiers high in those same dimly lit stinking sheds.

Second, Singer claims that “cage-free” eggs are the “bright spot” in this bleak story about battery cages. They aren’t. “Cage-free” eggs involve cramming thousands of birds into one big cage. The birds are still debeaked and subjected to forced molting. A 2004 article in the Christian Science Monitor stated: “But ‘cage free’ doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of quality of life for hens. Eggs labeled ‘cage free’ often come from hens packed side by side in massive sheds.” And the cited authority for this was none other than Paul Shapiro, now Senior Director of the Humane Society of the U.S. Factory Farming Campaign. Of course, that was before Paul went to work for HSUS, where he now declares that “cage-free” eggs and other forms of “happy meat” and animal products represent “a real tidal wave of progress.”

Patty Mark notes:

And no mention is ever made of the parent birds of ‘cagefree’ laying hens. Both the hens and roosters are tightly crammed together in huge windowless sheds, where the hens are repeatedly mated for over a year until their backs are literally rubbed raw and are sore and red, these parent birds are pushed to total exhaustion, their eggs are taken from them everyday to be put in an incubator to become “cagefree” laying hens. The mother hens will never be able to sit on their eggs, the father roosters will never be able to watch over their family. Neither hens nor roosters will ever know their chicks while half of them—the male babies—will be ground up alive and liquefied in an industrial blender.

Third, the Release describes Singer’s Animal Liberation as “often credited with starting the modern animal rights movement.” So here, once again, we have the so-called “father of the animal rights movement” telling the public that the “bright spot” in a story about animal torture and animal exploitation is a slightly modified form of exploitation and torture.

This sort of approach does nothing more than make the public feel better about animal consumption—and promote ARI and Singer. People can now “feel good” about eating eggs because “animal rights” authority Peter Singer has told them that “cage-free” eggs represent a morally acceptable alternative to battery eggs.

This is not the way to shift the paradigm in the direction of abolition. But then, it’s not really fair to say that Singer seeks that goal. After all, he thinks that being a “conscientious omnivore” is a “defensible ethical position” and that animal exploitation is a “luxury” in which we can all morally afford to indulge—at least on occasion.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione