Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chicken's Eggs, Science and Class.

Nothing stressful here
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Well who would have thought it?  A new study on comparing the quality of life for the hens that produce the eggs people eat has found that there is little if any difference in the quality of eggs produced by the free range hens and those confined to cages.  The study also found that there was no indication that hens raised in the more confined cage systems or the more free range experienced any “acute or chronic stress”.

Most of the 305 million egg-laying hens in the US are “confined to cages that typically give them 67 square inches of space each—smaller than a standard sheet of paper.”, according to the Wall Street Journal.  The study is no doubt a product of pressure from animal rights activists concerned about the quality of life of these animals and the conscious consumer concerned about the quality of their food consumption.

California has already introduced some minor changes in how chickens are housed demanding that egg producers ensure a hen has the room to turn around, lie down and extend their wings. California is a huge consumer of eggs which gives it some clout as a state.  This has caused the poultry and fast food industry concern as even these small changes may affect profit margins and, after all, the investors in this industry are not in the business of producing eggs, or poultry meat as a public service.  Food production like any other commodity production is about surplus value, the source of profits.  If you can’t pay for the food, you starve.

I was having a discussion with someone the other day who insisted that science and scientists cannot be influenced by class interests.  Science is absolute and exact, he said and scientists have to be ethical otherwise it doesn’t work. Listening to his argument I immediately thought of the host of scientists and experts that the tobacco industry employed to tell the public for decades that cancer and nicotine had no connection. Millions of people have died due to tobacco consumption. We’re they simply mistaken? Was it a genuine error? I think not.

The hen study was commissioned, paid for and conducted by scientists in the employ of egg suppliers and major food companies like McDonalds and Sysco Corp according to the Journal. Now I am not a scientist as far as I know but I find it hard to believe that a living breathing organism with legs, wings and other body parts is just as happy confined to a box the size of a sheet of paper as it would be out in the yard pecking around and having fun.

The study does say that free-range hens had stronger skeletal structure like wings and legs.  This doesn’t surprise me as I have seen those videos about the Indian religious man who has held his arm up in the same position for a decade or two, the arm simply has no muscle or strength in it.

Air quality is good here
One important aspect of the study was air quality.  Indoor air quality ( I assume where the free range hens spend  their evenings) for free range hens was much worse than the happy confined ones because, ”…. hens stir up dust while walking on the floor, which contains some of the birds’ manure, elevating ammonia levels.”  I can see it now, the recommendation that we all stay inside our air conditioned homes as a health issue.

I think my instincts are correct even though I don’t have a degree in egg production. I have a GED that I worked hard for when I came to America but this subject was not prominent. My gut feelings are given a boost by the Humane Society of the United States whose spokesperson adds, “This report from industry actors should be seen for what it is—a stacked deck designed to maintain the caging of hens, and not the kind of thing one would expect of a sector that’s looking ahead and seeking to align its housing practices with public concerns about animal well-being,”

“Industry actors”, that’s a good way of putting it. All of the propaganda from these quarters are really theatrical events designed to mold public opinion. This study has a class perspective.

One person commenting on the Journal article had this to say:
“Virtually all of your 10 billion chickens hatched in the USA undergo a horrific life. From hatch to slaughter is 42 days when their average weight is 7 pounds bloated with antibiotics and growth hormones. They live in low 15 watt light, 45 thousand bird chicken houses unable to move, fed off a slow moving trough filled with warm GMO mash and die by the hundreds. All culls are slaughtered and thrown into an incinerator. I have been given a few of these culls raising them with my free range birds. Their life expectancy was ten weeks. Do you still think industrial production is better?”

This individual has business interests too; he is a rancher and was also a Vice President at WalMart stores an outfit not known for humane treatment of its employees. That doesn’t change the validity of his statement here though.

I think the issue is cost. “Researchers found the cage-free system—known as an aviary—cost 36% more to operate than the small-cage system. Costs for the large cages were 13% higher than the small cages.”, the WSJ adds.  This would definitely affect profit margins I suppose.

But then, society’s food production shouldn’t be a for-profit venture should it.

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