Eggs – An Ethical View

Eggs happened to be part of my daily life – mainly because I LOVE baking! But then this month happened.

When I think about eggs I usually don’t think about it behind the scenes. If I do, I have a positive image on my mind and actually a very positive one – a picture book image: one where the farmer’s wife heads off to her barn, in her backyard. She hand-picks the eggs out of the stray and they are still warm. She carefully places all eggs in a  wooden basket. This is what books and children’s movies communicated – pure harmony. And this image is still on my mind.
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Today, looking at the egg stock in my local supermarket, I see things from a different angle. I can’t picture my farmer’s wife behind all those egg cartons. It’s shocking – where do all those eggs come from? It seems utopic to expect that these hens have a decent life. Even if they do not live in cages nowadays – they still need to share limited spaces with lots of other hens.
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I looked for material and a few documentaries to educate myself. Unfortunately, what I discovered does not look anything like my long-ago picture books. All I discovered is very questionable. But why have I never followed up on the number on my egg box? Have you ever questioned where your eggs come from? I mean there is hardly time to cook and prepare meals every day. So when would there be any time to follow up on the food production line behind each and every single ingredient?
Well, we can buy our products from a local farmer, where hens live a decent life and do not need to be cured with antibiotics? Yet, living in a city, supermarkets are my first place to go. And I simply used to trust what I’ve read on the label. I did not question it so far.
This is what I have learnt:
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  1. About a dozen hens used to live in groups together with one rooster.
  2. A house-hen would lay up to 40 eggs a year  (in nature only 10-15 eggs).
  3. The hen’s overall aim was to breed the eggs in order to raise her chicks. Therefore, she laid and bred around  6-8 eggs at a time.
  4. A hen had to eat around 200g in order to produce an egg.
  5. The lifespan of a hen was about 20 years.
  1. Many chicks get their beak trimmed (clipped/burned). This method is used to prevent cannibalism amongst each other as a result of stressful enviornónments. Most chickens live in huge groups on relatively small space.
  2. A hen lays around 300-320 egg a year.
  3. She still carries her natural instincts to breed 6-8 eggs at a time. Yet, she can never achieve this goal, because her eggs are constantly taken away. The aim is to produce as many eggs as possible for human consumption.
  4. A hen only needs 130g of food to produce one egg. This food is enriched with proteins for a stronger hen and in return a stronger egg. If a hen has to consume antibiotics to prevent or heal diseases, these antibiotics will also end up in the egg itself and the hens need to be kept separate, as long as they take antibiotics.
  5. Laying 300+ egg a year isn’t natural as well as physically exhausting. A result of the overproduction is that the efficiency lacks after 1 or 1.5 years.  Eggshells become thinner and thinner with time. After about one-year calcium is withdrawn from the hen’s bones into the eggshells. In return, bones become fragile  (brittle-bones) and break more easily. Also, the hen’s body and guts suffer as another result. Some hens will die early after a year, others will be killed because of unproductivity. They used to end up in incinerators, but nowadays layer hens are rather sold as stewing hens in order to not waste the meat.
The good news is: eggs can easily be replaced by so many thing – flax seeds, fruit puree, nut butter only to name a few.
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Here is my personal list
It will surely take some time for me to get used to. I need to explore what works better in different recipes, but I am glad I have learnt so much about eggs lately. This allows me to make some changes.
Here are some interesting references if you want to read about this topic in detail:
What are your thoughts? Have I left out important factors?
Share them with me and leave me a comment!

Also, check out my:

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plant-based grocery list

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