24 Hours (Vancouver) August 28, 2006




Putting the chicken before the egg



Several years ago, so that I could enjoy my omelettes without a heavy

helping of guilt, I decided to buy only free-range eggs.


I don't know about you, but the thought of a battery hen crammed into

a space no larger than a letter-sized piece of paper, or having its

beak ripped off with a red-hot blade to prevent it from, out of

frustration, pecking other chickens to death, just doesn't make my

breakfast taste good.


The trouble is, it's not always easy to work out what's free range

and what isn't; the labelling on egg boxes is downright confusing.


Though eggs may be described as "fresh," "farm," "natural" or

"Omega-3," and come packaged with illustrations of perky chickens in

sunny "Old MacDonald" settings, most are still from caged chickens.


Some eggs boxes claim that the chickens have "access to outside

pasture." Call me cynical, but I've always been suspicious that

"access" is code for a minuscule hole in the side of the barn that

only a very determined Houdini hen could squeeze through.


So last week, to clarify matters - I don't take much for granted

these days - I called the producer of the free-range eggs I buy for

$2 a box more than regular eggs.


I was pleasantly surprised by what farmer Cornie Luteyn of Elkview

Farms in Chilliwack told me. His barns contain 5,000 chickens, and

even the dimmest bird could find one of the many exits.


According to Bruce Passmore of the Vancouver Humane Society, Luteyn's

farm is one of the exceptions - he cautioned that only eggs that are

clearly labelled, "Certified Organic" are truly free range.


Most Canadian eggs are still produced by caged hens in horrific

conditions. The sheds contain as many as 17,000 squashed, demented

birds that never see the light of day. Unwanted male chicks suffer a

worse fate: most are dumped alive into a giant, high-speed macerator

- the gruesome industrial equivalent of a kitchen garburator.


Yet in the European Union, all caged operations will end by 2012.

European consumers are also treated to clear labelling on egg boxes,

detailing whether the hens have been caged, are barn raised (the

birds roam around an enclosed barn), or free range (the equivalent of

chicken paradise). Switzerland banned caged hens 14 years ago.

Meanwhile, Canadians are left with egg on their faces having to guess

how their eggs have been produced.


I used to be of the opinion that our priority should be how we treat

other human beings - animals would just have to wait until all that

was sorted out. Now I'm more convinced that it's high time we took

the cruelty out of our cooking.


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