The Aquarian (Winnipeg) June 2006


INDECENT EGGSPOSURE: How Eggs are Laid in Canada



It looks like news-at-six video of a puppy mill

bust. Except the filthy, neglected animals are

hens, and the setting is a modern

industrial-strength egg barn near Guelph, Ontario.


The camera sweeps across a long aisle lined high

on both sides with "batteries" (stacks) of wire

cages, then slowly pans across a single tier. The

hens inside are packed so tight they can barely



They are a pathetic sight. Where there should be

ivory-white feathers, there are spiky quills and

tattered grey coats. The birds in the lower tiers

are caked with feces from the cages above. Below

the towers of cages, a displaced hen squats

helplessly on a manure pile. Another lies dead in

the aisle. Everything is cloaked in filth.


"This is a life sentence with no parole. Their

only escape is slaughter," say the video's

closing titles.


Viewable <>on the

website of the Canadian Coalition for Farm

Animals (CCFA), "The Truth About Canada's Egg

Industry" is produced by CCFA and the Vancouver

Humane Society (VHS). The grainy footage was shot

by an anonymous University of Guelph biology

student who snuck into the barn last summer and

broke the story in his student newspaper. In

October, a media blitz by CCFA and VHS briefly

brought the story to national attention.


Animal scientists and veterinarians


on CCFA's website are appalled by the footage.

Mohan Raj, a prominent poultry scientist at the

University of Bristol, expressed shock that such

"extreme cruelty to layer hens" could exist in



"Considering the fact that birds appear to be

featherless and fecal ammonia is an irritant and

it can burn the skin, I would consider this as a

serious welfare problem," Raj wrote. "The dead

bird in the aisle could have escaped from the

cage and, after prolonged suffering, died due to

deprivation of food and water."


Debra Probert, Executive Director of VHS, says

the video, like similar shockers shot south of

the border, should be a wake-up call for



"Government and industry are constantly

reassuring consumers that things are better for

farm animals here in Canada," she tells Canadian

Press (CP) in October. "We have long suspected

that's not the case and now we have the proof -

this footage shows filthy, disgusting, hideously

abusive conditions."


Particularly disturbing is the pedigree of the

farm. The owner, Lloyd Weber, is a veterinarian

and a member of the Dean's Veterinary Advisory

Council of the University of Guelph, one of

Canada's foremost agricultural colleges. His

barn, LEL Farms, is a tour site for agriculture

students. "It's difficult not to speculate that

if this farm, with such esteemed connections, is

so bad, what are other farms like across Canada?"

the VHS


in its newsletter. "We have no reason to believe

this is not the norm."


Weber and the egg industry defend themselves in

national news stories. Conceding that a dead bird

may have been left in an aisle, the veterinarian

insists he lives up to the closest thing Canada

has to laws governing how farmers should treat

their animals: the Canadian Agri-food Research

Council's Recommended Codes of Practice. "The

[stocking] density does meet the [Code's]

guidelines for housing birds in cages," he tells

CP. An Ontario Egg Producers spokesperson tells

CP: "We encourage producers to live up [to the

codes]. A happy hen is a producing hen."


Ian Duncan, an internationally respected poultry

welfare scientist at the Univeristy of Guelph,

tells CP: "The egg-laying sector of the poultry

industry, has become too

intensified. It is time for change. The general

public needs to think if it wants to go on with

its demand for extremely cheap food or [be]

prepared to pay a little more for more humanely

produced food.''


Code of Practice or License to Abuse?


The bitter irony for Canada's 26 million

egg-laying hens (three million in Manitoba), 98

percent of whom live in large battery-cage

operations like Weber's averaging over 17,000

hens per barn, is that Weber's self-defense is

probably valid.


"The LEL farm is not that different from other

battery hen farms. Pretty much status quo,"

according to Stephanie Brown, a director of CCFA.

"Might be a tad dirtier, and the cages are old,

but it's battery-hen reality."


Brown is a former president of the Canadian

Federation of Humane Societies, the only animal

welfare organization ever permitted by the

Canadian Agri-Food Research Council (CARC) to

participate in formulating the Recommended Codes

of Practice. CARC is an NGO funded by government

and industry and comprised mostly of

representatives of the regulated industries

themselves (50 percent), government and academia.

There is little about the conditions at LEL Farms

that would run afoul of those Codes (which can be

read on the


website). In Ontario, where the Codes'

recommendations for treatment of animals on the

farm are just that – recommendations – as they

are in every province except New Brunswick,

Prince Edward Island and Manitoba, no charges

have been laid against LEL Farms. However,

according to Brown, Weber has stopped inviting

agriculture students to tour his facility – on

the advice of the <>Ontario

Farm Animal Council, an industry public relations



The primary Code for Canada's 1000+ registered

egg producers (producers who have 500 or more

hens – almost all the hens in Canada) is the 2003

< of Practice

- Polutry Layer English.pdf>Recommended Code of

Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets,

Layers and Spent Fowl. It gives producers the

green light to house their hens in wire-mesh

battery cages with no litter on the bare floors

and just 67 square inches per four-pound bird.


Look down at the outspread pages of The Aquarian,

22 inches by 15.5 (341 square inches). The Code

would allow you to house five hens on that area,

day-in, day-out, until their egg production wanes

- typically 12 months - and then kill them.


Because chronically overcrowded, stressed-out

chickens - especially the genetically high-strung

White Leghorns that lay most of the industrial

world's white eggs, and at three times the rate

of their ancestors - can easily peck each other

to death, the Code allows egg producers to cut

off the pointy, nerve-rich ends of their beaks

("debeaking"), without anesthetic or painkillers.

Some leading poultry scientists, including Ian

Duncan, believe the mutilated birds suffer

"phantom limb pain" for the rest of their lives.

Regardless, for a chicken, losing its beak is

like losing a right hand for a human. And they

still peck each other anyway: pulling out

feathers and exposing bare skin to infections and

ammonia burns from the barn's abundant chicken



The Code's acceptance of the now universal

battery cage production system, first introduced

in the 1940s, perpetuates what poultry scientists

and bioethicists commonly regard as an animal

welfare disaster. As American philosopher and

animal scientist Bernard Rollin summarizes the

problem: "Virtually all aspects of hen behavior

are thwarted by battery cages: social behavior,

nesting behavior, the ability to move and flap

wings, dustbathing, space requirements,

scratching for food, exercise, pecking at objects

on the ground."


According to the experts, battery caged hens pay

a serious price for such major deprivations as:


Not being able to fully stretch or flap their

wings. The average hen needs 144 square inches to

stretch her wings; 303 to flap them. The Code

gives her 67. She will try to flap her wings

anyway. Temple Grandin, a renowned farm animal

welfare scientist,


the consequences she witnessed at a large battery

egg operation: "When I visited a large egg layer

operation and saw old hens that had reached the

end of their productive life, I was horrified.

Egg layers bred for maximum egg production and

the most efficient feed conversion were nervous

wrecks that had beaten off half their feathers by

constant flapping against the cage."

* Not being able to build and lay their

eggs in a nest. "The worst torture to which a

battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire

somewhere for the laying act," Konrad Lorenz. the

Nobel prize-winning father of ethology wrote in

1980. "For the person who knows something about

animals, it is truly heartrending to watch how a

chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath

her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for

cover." Laying her eggs on a sloping wire-mesh

floor surrounded by five or six other nervous

hens is so disturbing that the hen appears to

hold her egg in as long as she can bear. She must

relive this ordeal every 30 hours.

* Not being able to perch and roost above

ground. Perching above ground and roosting in the

shelter of a tree are a fixtures of the chicken's

natural repertoire and exercise routine. Entire

flocks roost together at night to stay clear of

predators. Neither perching nor normal exercise

are possible in a battery cage, which is so low

the birds can't even adopt their standing alert

posture. According to Scottish poultry scientist,

Michael Baxter, "The fact that hens are

restricted from exercising to such an extent that

they are unable to maintain the strength of their

bones is probably the greatest single indictment

of the battery cage. The increased incidence of

bone breakage which results is a serious welfare

insult." Those broken bones are never treated.

Neither is the osteoporosis that gradually

consumes most battery hens.

* Not being able to establish a pecking

order. According to Baxter: "When crowded

together this regulatory system [pecking order]

breaks down and the hens appear to be in a

chronic state of social stress, perpetually

trying to get away from their cagemates, not able

to express dominance relations by means of

spacing and not even able to resolve social

conflict by means of aggression."


Battering Battery Cages


of what the scientists say



Inhumanity in the egg industry begins in the

hatchery. Layer chickens are bred to produce

eggs, not flesh. The male chicks – seven million

a year in Manitoba alone – are nothing but a

garbage disposal problem. The humane solution

favoured by the Code is to feed them, live, into

a high-speed macerator (grinder) – the industrial

equivalent of a kitchen garburator.


The female chicks may legally meet the same fate

after their year of service. “To my knowledge,”

Penny Kelly, General Manager of

<>Manitoba Egg Producers,

informs me, "several high-speed macerators are in

use locally."


"I have very serious welfare concerns," writes

British poultry scientist Mohan Raj in an email

correspondence. "Adult poultry can fly (are you

surprised?). Therefore, some birds may try to

escape from being macerated while their legs are

caught between the blades of the macerator

leading to severe pain and suffering. I will

leave this scenario for your imagination."


Who's Minding the Hens?

Click here for conclusion:




Aquarian co-editor Syd Baumel is a known animal

rights activist with close ties to the Canadian

Coalition for Farm Animals, AnimalWatch Manitoba,

the Winnipeg Vegetarian Association,

and the Winnipeg Humane Society.






Where to buy kinder eggs in Manitoba

(to find sources elsewhere, visit <>


<>The Aquarian's Ethical Food Market

Don't forget to read part two of this article at

and Syd's correspondence with government and

industry officials linked therein.

Learn More


<>The Truth

About Canada's Egg Industry (Canadian Coalition

for Farm Animals)


<> (Vancouver Humane Society)


Canadian Agri-Food Research Council's

< of Practice

- Polutry Layer English.pdf>Recommended Code of

Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets,

Layers and Spent Fowl





All contents copyright © 2006 The Aquarian.

16 Victoria Row, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R2M 1Y2

ph: (204) 255-4884 | fax: (204) 255-5057

We welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.






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