Most of us are raised to eat eggs. I was. Probably you were too. We are taught that laying eggs is just what hens and quail, ducks, geese and several other species do. And to a certain extent, that’s true. They do lay eggs; but then so do robins and blackbirds, sparrows and hawks, woodpeckers and magpies and wrens. All birds lay eggs.
So apart from the fact that many birds are protected by law, why would it never occur to us to help ourselves to the eggs of a blue tit or a crow, a chaffinch or a jay, or any of the birds whose antics give us so much pleasure in our gardens or on our window sills?
Well it’s obvious, isn’t it? These birds need their eggs. Their eggs are the beginning of the family they create once or maybe twice each year. For each family, it’s a huge and draining investment of nutrients for the mother’s body to create, and a massive labour of time and devotion sometimes undertaken by both parents to raise their hatchlings to independence. It would be unforgivable to take their eggs. We all know that and we’d never dream of it.
So what’s different about hens?
So since we all agree about that, what’s different then about the other eggs, particularly hens’ eggs; the ones humans eat?
‘They’re different’, we’re taught. ‘Hens lay far more eggs than they need, even without being fertilised. It’s just what they DO,’ we’re told, ‘They’d lay them even if we didn’t take them.’ And we conclude from this that we might as well and it must be okay.
Now here’s the thing. WHY do you think it happens that hens lay so many eggs even without being fertilised? WHY would they be so different from every other species of bird on the planet? We’re not encouraged to even ask those questions, are we? We’re encouraged to think it’s all just ‘another of nature’s miracles’.
Only it isn’t. There’s a reason, and here it is: They do it because humans have tampered with their genes to select characteristics that serve our interests and make profit for our species. Instead of laying two clutches like other birds, like their wild ancestors used to do, each frail little egg-laying hen now lays up to 350 eggs in a year and scientists are working to increase that number even further. It’s all about maximum output for minimum outlay. Profit is the principle that underpins all our use of other species.
And here’s something else no one wants us to think about. These fragile little creatures were not designed by nature to be used in this hideous way; it’s not how they evolved at all. Their bodies wear out; they become exhausted, depleted, diseased and broken. The industry word to describe them then, is ‘spent’; defined as ‘having been used and unable to be used again.’ They are packed into crates, trucked off to a slaughterhouse and replaced with a new crop of victims.
All the hens who are used for eggs have undergone the same genetic tampering, the same selective breeding. Their wild counterparts, like all wild birds, invest the nutrients and effort that all eggs demand from the body of the mother, to create and raise a family. The birds whose eggs we eat have this natural investment in the next generation subverted. Instead of investing in the future of their own species, we use them to death.
And that’s why, although we may rescue a hen from a cage or a shed, and no doubt use her in a more pleasant environment, she is still being used. We can never rescue her from the self-destructive body that our species has forced her to inhabit. Vegans who rescue hens either feed their eggs back to them to replace lost nutrients, or have a vet administer hormone implants to interrupt egg laying.
To continue to use her for eggs that we consume ourselves is not vegan and it’s not ‘rescue’. It’s just a change of prison.
If you’d like to know more about issues mentioned here there are a number of links in the following posts: