Tuesday, 24 February 2015

What's Wrong With Eggs From Backyard Hens?

My friend keeps a few hens in the back garden and they’re really well looked after, surely it can’t hurt to eat those eggs? 

When you first think about it, it may seem like there’s little harm in eating eggs from backyard hens. Most people think that if the eggs haven’t been fertilised, the hens have no need for them so it might even be considered wasteful not to eat them. However, things aren’t quite as straightforward as this and there are several reasons why taking eggs from even the most loved hens is problematic.

 First of all, if the hens were bought, or bred specifically so somebody could keep them for their eggs, then for every female, there will have been an unwanted male. So no matter how kindly we think the people keeping hens treat them, their brothers won’t have gone to a home that cares for them. Instead, they would either have been killed (usually by being thrown into a mincing machine) as soon as they hatched, or sold into the food chain.

But what if they’re rescue hens? Surely by giving them a home in exchange for a few eggs, it’s beneficial for the hens?

There are a few reasons why, even if we keep rescue hens, we should still not take their eggs.

Most modern breeds of laying hen now have been selectively bred to lay many more eggs than they would have done traditionally; and this takes its toll on their bodies. If you think about it, there’s a reason why eggs are regarded as being highly nutritious.  Eggs need to be packed with nutrients in order to give baby chicks everything they need to grow, and this usually comes at a cost to the hen's personal wellbeing.  Given the opportunity, and sometimes a little assistance for hens who’ve been debeaked and are used to having their eggs taken away, most hens will happily eat their own eggs.  Eating their own eggs, this helps to replenish the nutrients they lose each time they lay.   You can see some rescue hens enjoying their own eggs in this video:



Another thing to consider is that it can be quite stressful for hens to have their eggs taken away from them.  It takes quite a lot of work just to lay one egg, and hens can get very distressed when we take them away.  You can read more about this here. 

Even if some hens don’t wish to eat their own eggs, and don’t appear to be concerned by us taking their eggs, there are still plenty of reasons why we still should not eat them.  One of these reasons is that when we use eggs as food ourselves, we are reinforcing the idea of eggs as food in other people’s minds.  After all, if somebody calls himself or herself a vegan yet eats eggs, it’s going to confuse people and make them think that if a vegan is willing to eat eggs, it must not be a problem to consider eggs as food. 

This is a problem because so long as people think of eggs as food, hens will continue to be exploited.  As chickens are one of the most exploited animals on the face of the earth, we really should be doing everything we can to avoid contributing to that exploitation – whether directly or indirectly.  One of the best ways to help end the exploitation is to show people it’s easy to live without using eggs.  We certainly have no nutritional need for them and there are vegan alternatives to pretty much every kind of egg use you can think of. 

Ok, so it might not be ideal but surely it’s better the hens get rescued and some of their eggs taken than be sent to slaughter?

When it comes to rescuing hens, we should be quite troubled by the idea of doing so just to get eggs from them.  People happily adopt and rescue cats, dogs, and other animals without wanting to get food or labour from them.  So why can’t we extend the same compassion to hens who’ve come from a life of exploitation, without wanting to exploit them further? 

Finally, hens are not able to give us their consent to take their eggs.  When it comes to most moral issues, we generally take the view that where somebody is not able to give their consent, we should assume they have not given it.  This should be no different for animals.  It is not fair to assume consent simply because they are unable to say no to us.  If we use an animal in any way - no matter how kind we believe our treatment of them to be or how mutually 'beneficial' we believe it to be, we are still exploiting them.  This is a problem because every time we exploit an animal or use their bodies for our own benefit, we contribute to their status as property when we should be allowing them to be individuals who exist for their own purposes.   

It’s because humans regard animals as property that humans treat animals the way they do. The only way to change the way animals are treated is to do everything we can to change the idea of animals as property - and one of the strongest ways to do that is to stop regarding animals' bodies and anything that comes from them as food or any other kind of commodity.  I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to stop looking at animals as food/resources but in time you come to wonder how you ever considered them in that way for so long.  As the sharks in Finding Nemo liked to say, ‘friends, not food’!