Extraordinary article on egg farming in Harper
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Karen Dawn, DawnWatch
November 2014

[NOTE from All-Creatures.org: For more in-depth information, visit United Poultry Concerns UPC]

The article is thorough, discussing the environmental degradation wreaked by massive egg farms, touching on the ag-gag laws, and letting readers know that laying hens are entirely unprotected from cruelty because the federal Animal Welfare Act, which regulates caging, exempts all animals on farm, and the federal humane slaughter and transport laws, which apply to farm animals, exempt poultry.

The November 2014 issue of Harper Magazine has what may be the finest mainstream media article on egg production I've ever read. I don't know that I have even read a piece more thorough and compelling in an animal rights magazine. The blurb on the cover of Harper reads "A Day in the Life of a Caged Hen." The article inside, by Deb Olin Unferth, is titled "Cage Wars: A visit to the egg farm." It begins on page 43 and continues for another eight pages to page 51.

Unferth takes a tour of an egg farm that is home to two million hens. The farmer has agreed to show her only the shed with new "enriched cages," which are better than the standard battery cages that animal welfare advocates have been fighting to outlaw. But her description makes clear that life in the improved cages, while definitely not as hideous as in the standard cages, is still awful. In the enriched barn, "Each cage is twelve feet long, four feet wide, and contains more than seventy hens." The hens live on wire. There is no natural light and the air is thick with dander and dust and the smell of ammonia.

Unferth describes the cruel but standard practices of forced molting, beak trimming (which is painful) and the "rendering" of male chicks.

She also notes that these "enriched" cages house only one percent of US laying hens. Later she tours a standard battery cage shed, of which she writes:

Such a monstrous thing we have constructed, out of wire and cement and steel, so huge you can't see the other end, so filthy you can hardly breathe, stuffed with living beings for which we are responsible.

The reporter doesn't just rely on what she is shown to her on tours. Having seen some undercover video shot on egg farms, revealing horrendous cruelty, and having heard charges from farmers that the videos are heavily edited, or that the acts of cruelty are staged by activists, Unferth sits down to watch 49 hours of unedited footage. She shares with us what she sees.

The article is thorough, discussing the environmental degradation wreaked by massive egg farms, touching on the ag-gag laws, and letting readers know that laying hens are entirely unprotected from cruelty because the federal Animal Welfare Act, which regulates caging, exempts all animals on farm, and the federal humane slaughter and transport laws, which apply to farm animals, exempt poultry. Some states have laws that offer some protection, but they exempt "standard agricultural practices," which include many shockingly cruel practices.

In one of my favorite sections, Unferth discusses studies of hen intelligence, personalities, social structures, distinct vocalizations revealing language, and hens' ability to recognize numerous faces of fellow avians and of humans. She writes:

A flock of chickens in nature resembles a lively village with the males crowing and dancing, the young ones sparring, most of them climbing into the trees at night to sleep.

Harper has posted only the first two paragraphs of the article on line for non subscribers. You'll find the opening section here.
 
I believe it has been posted elsewhere by a some animal advocates, but I would like to see Harper Magazine rewarded by the vegan community for publishing a piece that would do any or our magazines proud, so I urge people to perhaps forgo one venti soy frappuccino and buy the November issue of Harper Magazine instead. While the article does share the unconscionable conditions in which hens are kept, it is utterly engrossing. You'll be glad you read it and will want to share your copy with your family and friends.

Once you've read it (and I know some of you already have) please send an appreciative letter to the editor. It's so important that the magazine gets positive feedback for publishing this article.

You can also comment on the Harper web site on the page linked above.

Harper takes letters at letters@harpers.org and advises that short letters are more likely to be published and that all letters are subject to editing.

I send thanks to Mariann Sullivan of the wonderful Our Hen House for being the first to send the piece my way -- and thanks to other activists who called my attention to it.


DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com .
Please go to http://tinyurl.com/254ulkx to check out Karen Dawn's book, Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals, which will give you background on any issue covered by DawnWatch. When it was first published in 2008 it was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of The Year!" The brand new, updated, e-edition has just come out. For more animal rights news, follow Karen Dawn on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/m9xm3x2, Twitter at http://Twitter.com/monkeythanker, or read her blogs on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-dawn/


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