Friday, April 18, 2008

The future of battery cages

According to a short, vague and all-around badly written announcement on, Unilever and McDonald's have recently stated that they will stop using eggs from battery caged chickens for their products, with Unilever (maker of Hellman's mayo, et al.) beginning with Europe and then moving on to the ''rest of the world''. had been reporting that McDonald's and Unilever were recently given the Compassion in World Farming's Good Egg award. Where are the misinformation police when you need 'em? Their facts about what McDonald's and Unilever are doing are -- er -- a little skewed.

According to a statement by Unilever on the Compassion in World Farming website, ''most Western European countrie
s will be moved to non-caged eggs by 2010 and all countries before 2012, starting with UK in June this year''. I checked the Unilever website and was unable to find any references to this at all. Google News brought up no press releases from Unilever, either. I'm guessing that by ''all countries'', they mean the rest of Europe, since they specify Western Europe for the first phase.The thing is, though, that the EU, the world's second largest producer of eggs, will already be implementing a ban on battery cages by 2012. So short of importing eggs from outside the EU for all of their products sold in the EU, it seems that Unilever is acting out of economic necessity more than anything, but getting a pat on the back for it in the process.

As for McDonald's -- as per a statement by one of their reps on the Compassion in World Farming website, they've already phased out battery cage eggs from 90% of their products sold in the EU. They intend to phase out the remaining 10% sold in the EU by 2010. There's no mention of phasing them out in the rest of the world in their response to receiving the award, plus I couldn't find anything about it on their website. And the way worded it, it sounded as if this was some sort of amazing breaking news on an international scale.

In the end, it sounds like more rhetoric from the pro-''happy meat'' camp that Gary Francione writes about, and that the folks at Vegan Freaks reference frequently during their podcasts. People think that because the chickens will no longer be kept in conventional battery cages, that somehow it becomes more ethically acceptable to eat them or their eggs. Here's the full scoop, though, on what the upcoming EU ban on conventional battery cages really entails.


Anonymous said...

Despite long-term campaigning by groups like ourselves, the legislation to ban battery cages (coming into force across EU27 in 2012) is not perfect. It will still allow producers to use ‘enriched’ cages, which give the hens a few benefits (e.g. a nest to lay their eggs in) and slightly more space. However, we believe a cage is still a cage and although ‘enriched’, this system still fails to satisfy many of the hen’s behavioural needs. Our Good Egg Awards celebrate ‘cage-free’ policies which rule out the use of ‘enriched’ cages as well as the battery cages that will be banned in 2012. To us, the move to cage-free by Unilever and McDonald’s is groundbreaking and it is worth shouting about. They will free nearly 2 million hens from cages every year. Our Good Egg Award winners combined will free over 15 million hens every year – hens who might otherwise have ended up in ‘enriched’ cage systems despite the ban on barren cages in 2012. Not only that, but their policies also safeguard against importing eggs from caged hens as soon as the ban comes into force in Europe. You can read more about our Good Egg Awards here
Rowen West-Henzell
Food Policy Manager
Compassion in World Farming

Unknown said...

2 millions hens will not be freed. They will simply suffer under a slightly less abominable kind of slavery -- their beaks still burned over, their lives still claimed, still forced to produce, the males still culled.

That may be a PR victory for MacDonalds, Unilever and CIWF, but it's no victory for the animals involved.

M said...

I agree with Vincent. I'd hardly use the word "free" to describe animals kept in captivity to make processed foods or personal care products. Additionally, a company like McDonald's whose profits rest entirely on the confining and slaughter of animals -- how can they possibly be viewed as compassionate? I mean, even their french fries are made with animal products.

As well, cage-free doesn't guarantee that these chickens will ever spend a second outside.

It's ultimately a pat on the back for the tiniest of token gestures. It makes people feel less guilty about supporting animal slaughter, is all it does. How does that benefit chickens in the long run, if in the end, more of them end up being someone's shampoo?

Anonymous said...

"Cage-free" really means that instead of 5 chickens crammed into a small cage, there'll be thousands crammed in a larger cage. The conditions are still cramped, the birds still cannot maintain their natural behaviours and respect their social hierarchies, they still suffer from crowding-related injuries such as broken bones and cannibalistic attacks. As Vincent said, they will still be de-beaked, and the male chicks still killed at a few days old. This is not compassion.

I agree wholeheartedly with Vincent & M, this does nothing for the chickens. It just makes people consuming them & their products feel better. In fact, I would say that this harms chickens in the long run, as it deceives people into thinking that they are happy and free and thus there is no impetus to change this horrible system.