Laying hens: The inside story
The Egg Report
This month, Viva! launches online a Special Report on laying hen farms.
'Laying Hens: The Inside Story', as featured in The Guardian, is an in-depth, illustrated report featuring findings from our 12 month investigation into the egg industry. Read it and find out what the industry would prefer you didn’t know!
Egg consumption in Britain has been steadily growing over several years and, in 2015 alone, according to egg industry data, around 10 billion eggs were produced in Britain.
The UK laying flock in 2015 was estimated to be at 36 million. Around 12 billion eggs were eaten by consumers in Britain in the same year, which equates to 33 million eggs per day. Fifty one per cent of eggs laid in the UK in 2015 were from hens incarcerated in ‘enriched’ cages, 47 per cent from so-called ‘free-range’ birds (including an estimated two per cent organic), and two per cent from ‘barn’ living birds.
Egg consumers have been duped by the egg industry into believing that life for laying hens has improved since the banning of the conventional ‘battery’ cage across Europe in 2012. Since that time, enriched cage egg production has increased.
In the egg industry, hens are assaulted from their first day of life until they are killed. Viva! has filmed inside UK hatcheries where the day-old babies are beak trimmed and the males are sent to their deaths on conveyer belts. On farms, laying hens face serious welfare problems throughout their life, before being sent to slaughter.
Over the course of a year (between 2015 and 2016), Viva! carried out a series of undercover investigations inside enriched cage, free-range and organic farms to reveal the reality of life for laying hens in Britain.
The farms visited were, at the time of the investigation, accredited with the British Lion codes of practice which should mean they are subjected to regular and independent auditing by personnel qualified to inspect the farms.
Two of the enriched cage farms included in the investigation supplied eggs for companies Bird Bros and K Fresh. Another for mega egg company Stonegate (now Ridgeway Foods) in Wolverhampton. Ridgeway Foods is the second largest egg packer in Britain – supplying millions of eggs each week to consumers.
Each visit by investigators at enriched cage units supplying millions of eggs to consumers each week revealed gross conditions and similar welfare problems to those widely acknowledged to be present on battery cage units still in use around the world. Footage and stills from sheds housing tens of thousands of birds, revealed birds crammed into cages with no privacy or means of escape, hens with extensive feather loss, live birds stepping over the dead on cage floors, evidence of routine beak mutilation, air that was thick with dust, wire cage floors covered in faeces, sick and dying birds, and meagre ‘enrichment’ that is clearly making little, if any, improvement to the incarcerated hens’ lives.
Viva! also obtained ground-breaking footage from a rearing unit in Shrewsbury where young hens (pullets) were housed in small barren cages. The birds were so small their feet dropped through the wire floors. Veterinarian Dr. Andrew Knight stated: “I am very concerned that young hens are being raised in what appear to be barren cages. It would be against the law to keep adult hens in these conditions. We know that hens adapt to perches and other facilities more successfully if they are introduced to them at a much earlier age. Failure to do so can induce fear, stress, and increase risks of injury”.
The free-range farms visited included one supplying eggs for the largest egg producer in Britain – Noble Foods. Birds were filmed locked inside dark, stinking, filthy sheds here – similar to those used to house hens laying ‘barn’ eggs. The birds, whilst uncaged, were suffering feather loss and living in overcrowded conditions. It was unclear during the investigation whether hens on free-range farms stepped outside onto the ranges during the day, though studies reveal many free-range hens never do due to high stocking densities, competition for access from other birds, and inadequate conditions.
Even on the organic farms visited during the investigation, conditions were far from ideal.
Egg consumers are duped by misleading labeling and packaging into believing that hens on free-range and even enriched cage farms live a decent life, yet each undercover investigation reveals hens living in the same dismal, hellish environment.
Read more about Viva!'s Cracked campaign