Are eggs and dairy MORE cruel than meat?
Updated: Jan 20
Consider the life of a chicken raised for meat. Yes, it's true that she will grow far too quickly for her body to handle. Her breast will be so heavy that she will have trouble walking; she will probably spend the majority of her time sitting in her own waste, eventually developing painful lesions from the uric acid. (82% of supermarket chickens in the UK show evidence of this suffering in the form of dark discolourations on their knee joints; the industry calls these 'hock burns'.) In fact, the hollow bones of her legs may break, unable to keep up with this grossly unnatural growth rate imposed by humans. If that happens, she will likely starve to death or die of dehyrdration. She may also die of a heart attack or from lung issues. All of the above are common in the chicken industry. If she survives the growing process, however, she will go to slaughter at the age of just six weeks old. It is a horrendous life dominated solely by pain...but it is short.
Now take the case of an egg-laying hen. 50% of eggs in the UK come from chickens who spend their entire lives in a cage packed with other birds. She will have space the approximate size of an A4 piece of paper. She cannot stretch out her wings. The inability to exercise and the constant, unnatural production of eggs will likely result in osteoporosis, and her bones will break. (Chickens would normally lay about 20 eggs annually; we have manipulated them to lay about 300, and then encourage this high rate with high-protein diets and near constant lighting.) More cages will be stacked up on top of her and her cagemates, and their waste will fall onto the cages below. Her feet will be deformed from standing on the floor of the cage, and she will suffer feather loss.
If she is a free-range hen, she has it better...but not by much. The 'free-range' label only requires that she have 'access' to the outside; what this means is up to the discretion of the farm. Typically, there is a single pop-hole to the outside at the end of the barn, but in a building with tens of thousands of birds, it is not always accessible, and it is often jealously guarded by chickens at the top of the pecking order. Fewer than 10% of the chickens are outside at any given time, and many never make it outside at all. Inside the barn, the birds are packed in at nine per square metre, and this overcrowding causes many of the same issues seen in caged hens, like feather loss and aggression, as they compete for the limited amount of space. (See footage from free-range farms.)
Regardless of whether the hen is caged or free-range, at one-and-a-half to two years old, the suffering will end. Though chickens can live up to ten years, her rate of egg production will have slowed down and she will have ceased to be profitable enough for the farm. She will go the slaughter, and her body will be turned into meat that doesn't show injury and bruising, like soup and baby food.
The circumstances are the same for cows--a cow raised for meat will be killed at about two years old, though they can live to about 20. A cow used for her milk will live to four or five, but that is after enduring the trauma of annual artificial inseminations, pregnancies, and milking, as well as the repeated loss of her calves. This is the industry standard. (Calves are taken from their mothers almost immediately after birth so we can have the milk instead. The females will be kept to replace their mothers; the males will be killed or exported thousands of miles away to be raised as veal.) Her body, like that of the egg-laying hen, will be worn and destroyed by the constant demand of the industry; she may not even be able to walk onto the truck taking her to the slaughterhouse.
The reality of the situation is that the animals used for milk and eggs die too...but they suffer longer first.
Going vegetarian is a step in the right direction--but it shouldn't be the end of the journey. The truth is that the only way to avoid being directly responsible for the pain and suffering of animals is to go vegan. Check out our Vegan 101 page for tips, free starter kits, our favourite educational books and films and more!