The egg industry is busy these days claiming that eggs eaten in
moderation pose no threat to your artery walls. But if you won’t stay away
from these little packages of misery and cholesterol for your health, you
might want to do it for your heart. If you’ve ever had occasion to meet a hen
you’ll know what I mean.
My first encounter with a living chicken was at a friend’s mini-farm on
the outskirts of Woodstock, Ill. I parked my car and started walking toward
the house. Suddenly a small creature appeared, running down the path to meet
me. Within seconds, a tan and white hen was at my feet, looking up at me and
making a series of tiny silent hops into the air. Each hop propelled her
straight up about four inches. She was hopping so fast, with such energy,
that she looked like a bouncing featherball.
“Butterscotch wants you to pick her up,” laughed my friend Georgi, coming
toward us. Amazed at the trust this little being was showing in me, a giant
stranger forty times bigger than she, I bent down and gingerly picked her up.
She snuggled herself comfortably into my arms, her lovely soft feathers
spread over them, as cuddly as any cat I’d ever held. All settled in, she
tilted her head and looked up at me as if to say, “There. Isn’t this nice?”
I have since met other chickens and learned that, like people and all
other animals, some are shy, some are brave and some are more affectionate or
outgoing than others. But each is a sensitive little individual with his or
her own distinct personality. They reach out to us in trust, but we betray
that trust. Because 95 percent of our chickens and eggs today are produced by
giant factory farms, I believe that, in sheer numbers, chickens suffer more
than any other animal on earth.
Incredibly, chickens and other poultry are not even afforded the feeble
protection of the Animal Welfare Act or the Humane Slaughter Act. Every year,
producers for whom profits override common decency subject 5 to 6 billion
chickens to misery beyond belief.
Since only female chickens lay eggs, 280 million male chicks a year from
are thrown into plastic trash bags to suffocate as soon as they peck and peep
their way out of their shells. Sometimes the bags full of living chicks are
crushed by manual or automatic mallets and are used as fertilizer or mink
food. Welcome to planet Earth, baby birds.
Female chicks are debeaked with a searing wire that sometimes also takes
part of their tiny tongues or faces. Then they grow up with three to four
other hens in wire “battery” cages with floor space the size of a record
album cover. They are so jam-packed they can’t even stretch a wing or preen.
Excrement from cages stacked above splatters hens below. Raw sores replace
feathers. Feet made to walk on ground, not balance on slanted wire, become
deformed. Legs become crippled, wings atrophy, bones made brittle snap. The
It takes 22 hours in this hell for each “Butterscotch” to lay one egg.
A chicken’s normal life span is 15 to 20 years, but these hens are “used
up” in 16 to 18 months, then pulled from their cages and stuffed into crates
for a terrifying ride to the slaughterhouse.
Some European countries have outlawed the battery cage, and enacted
humane laws to protect hens. No such measure is forthcoming in the United
States, so great is the poultry magnets’ power.
So have a heart (and save your heart)–when it comes to eggs, just say
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