Connecticut is home to more chickens than people. In fact, we have more chickens than all of the rest of New England combined. Last year, our state’s roughly four million birds laid nearly 700 million eggs.
Almost all of Connecticut’s chickens are owned by one large-scale industrial egg operation — Kofkoff Egg Farms. The company, located in the eastern part of our state, delivers eggs to most major supermarkets in our region.
A Hartford Courant article this week linked Kofkoff Egg Farms to “battery cage” operation practices. Battery cages for hens are among the most inhumane of all factory farm practices.
In a 2008 ballot initiative, California voters outlawed battery cages because of their excessive cruelty. In 2008 and 2011, attempts were made to similarly outlaw battery cages in Connecticut, but both efforts failed following intense opposition from agribusiness.
Battery cage egg producers pour a lot of effort and money into preventing the public from learning the details of how their eggs are produced.
As a result of intense lobbying by battery cage operations and other industrial agribusinesses, eight states (not including Connecticut) have passed “Agricultural Gag” laws that make it a criminal act to use undercover investigations to expose food safety, environmental or animal welfare violations on factory farms.
Yale Law School’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Connecticut Bar Association’s Animal Law Section held a conference at Yale this past Saturday that examined the impact of Ag Gag legislation. These laws stifle food watchdogs by prohibiting filming at agricultural operations and slaughterhouses, compelling whistleblowers to reveal their identities and requiring undercover investigators to turn over videos of animal abuse to authorities within one to two days of filming. In Idaho, the latest state to pass an Ag Gag law, such whistleblowers face a year in prison and fines up to $5000 — the same sentence assigned to animal abusers.
It is in large part due to undercover investigations — like those now outlawed in eight states — that we know how battery cage facilities typically operate. And that is something that Connecticut egg eaters and voters need to know.
A typical battery cage egg-laying house is a windowless shed that holds up to 100,000 birds. Inside, thousands of wire cages, each about the size of a file drawer, hold up to ten birds each. The cages are stacked five or six tiers high so that the excrement from the hens on upper tiers falls on the hens below, causing ammonia burns. From birth to death, the hens never see the light of day, touch the ground or breathe fresh air.
Each hen is allotted 67 square inches of cage space — less than the surface of an iPad. That is five square inches less than a hen needs to stand up straight, and 236 square inches less than she needs to spread her wings — so for her entire life, she can do neither.
Battery hens are forced to produce to up to 300 eggs per year, fifteen times their natural production rate. Lack of exercise combined with unnaturally high egg production causes severe osteoporosis in the hens. The hens’ legs become so brittle that they snap like twigs when handled.
As brutal as the physical suffering is for hens in industrial egg operations, their inability to engage in their prime instinctual behaviors like perching, scratching, nesting and dust-bathing may cause even greater suffering. Battery hens are so tormented by their living conditions that these naturally affectionate and highly social animals start pecking each other to death and pulling each other’s feathers out.
Egg producers’ solution to this problem is to cut their beaks off. The commonplace practice of “debeaking” causes so much pain that many hens die from shock, and those that survive suffer acute and chronic pain for the rest of their lives.
Life is so hard for industrial egg-laying hens that one quarter of them die during the average 18-month laying cycle. Ninety percent of those that survive have broken bones or are hemorrhaging by the time they make it to slaughter, usually for pet food. The natural lifespan of a hen is seven to ten years.
We are better than this. We need to stop sanctioning this cruelty-for-profit as citizens and as consumers.
We can thank California voters for leading the way to more humane egg production. We must push our politicians in Connecticut to follow suit. Legislation to ban battery cages will likely be reintroduced in our General Assembly next year. This time we must make sure it passes.
Until then, let us vote against unnecessary cruelty with our dollars and buy only naturally produced eggs from real farmers, not from battery hen factories. Supporting cruel practices is not an act we can stomach.
Viveca Morris is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Her columns run on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org