On Food Choices: clandestine caged eggs

According to the current RSPCA frequently asked questions, there are 16 million layer hens in Australia, 9 million of which are still in battery cages.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

This means that 7 million hens are not in cages, but are free range (which has a broad definition), in barns, or pastured.

The numbers may be +/- 1 million or so different, depending upon which year you look.

These days consumers have a great deal of choice when purchasing a carton of eggs.

But if there are more hens in cages in Australia than in other systems, and we are seeing a decline in caged eggs on supermarket shelves, an obvious question arises: where are all the caged eggs going?

The answer? Into processed food products (e.g. baked goods) and into the hospitality industry (cafes, restaurants). Here’s what the RSPCA had to say in 2018:

An estimated eight in 10 eggs used in food service and manufacturing are cage eggs. But this is changing with many of Australia’s biggest and best-known brands responding to the expectations of their customers by ending the use or sale of cage eggs in their businesses, in favour of cage-free.

Why cage free will help end the battery cage (RSPCA)

Similar comments were made in a 2020 RSPCA podcast (see also below). So, although there is change, if you read the ingredients list on a packet and it says that it contains eggs, there’s a good chance this came from a caged hen. Likewise, if you eat out, and there is no information to the contrary, your smashed avo with egg on toast may also have come from a caged hen.

As an important aside, the RSPCA also says that in commercial systems, a hen lives for around 72 weeks before it is considered “spent” and euthanised on the farm by carbon dioxide gassing or sent to slaughter to be used for lower-quality products such as soups, stocks or pet food. Then there is the problem of male chicks that are considered a waste product to the industry and killed after hatching, since they are not of the right breed for the meat industry. Recent Australian gene technology may, if adopted by industry, be able to identify gender early, before hatching.

The ACT has already banned the caged egg system. An episode in season 2 of the RSPCA’s Humane Food podcast (the name of which is arguably a contradiction) mentioned that later this year the Australian parliament will consider a ban on caged hens. Let’s hope this comes into effect. Of course, that still leaves the rest of the industry in place, but as Christopher Hitchens might have said: it’s progress of a kind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: