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April 2004
Animal Cruelty Certified

By Paul Shapiro


Consumers’ attitudes toward new animal welfare egg carton labeling were recently released by the Zogby polling agency. How did the egg industry fare? To put it mildly, consumers didn’t see a sunny side of modern egg production and, the survey results have left the industry’s reputation scrambled.

Two years ago, because of polls showing overwhelming public sentiment against many cruel, yet standard, egg production practices—such as caging birds so tightly they can’t flap their wings—the egg industry realized it needed to appear concerned about animal welfare, ideally without having to make significant changes. And so began a voluntary program which would allow egg producers to label their cartons with a deceptive logo reading “Animal Care Certified.”

The Zogby poll found that most consumers believe hens laying “Animal Care Certified” eggs receive more humane treatment than is actually the case. It’s not difficult to understand why.

Hens who lay “Animal Care Certified” eggs are intensively confined in wire “battery” cages, may have parts of their beaks burned off (without painkiller), and may be starved to the point of losing 30 percent of their body weight in order to induce a new laying cycle.

Recognizing that most Americans oppose such cruelty, animal agribusiness put its public relations machine to work. The United Egg Producers (UEP) convened a panel and instructed it to examine current industry practices, while still maintaining a battery-cage system. The result was a voluntary program which very slightly increased cage space over many years, with the final size of 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less than one-fourth the amount of space needed for the birds to flap their wings, according to the UEP’s own scientific advisory panel.

When the program took effect, producers who signed began labeling their egg cartons with an “Animal Care Certified” (ACC) logo, giving themselves a halo of legitimacy for consumers concerned about animal cruelty.

The ACC program not only served to cloak the industry in the veil of animal welfare without implementing significant production changes; it also helped address an oversupply problem which had been plaguing egg producers with low prices for years. The editor of one industry journal wrote in the Gainesville Times, “For years, egg companies admitted that overproduction had been the root of the profitability problem, but were slow to react.”

Indeed, an article in Poultry Times entitled, “Animal Welfare Guidelines Aid Profitability,” noted that the ACC guidelines “have had a secondary and welcomed effect—that of increased profitability.”

No one should oppose making living conditions on factory farms less inhumane. But when the factory farmers use false advertising on egg cartons to pretend that their baby steps actually make the industry humane, no one should be fooled.

The most humane thing we can each do for laying hens is to leave their eggs out of our shopping carts.

Paul Shapiro is the campaigns director for nonprofit animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing, whose website on this issue is EggScam.com.

 

 


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