Friday, December 28, 2007

Chickens of the World, Unite!!!

You have to wonder how much money they spent on the study referred to below... and who paid for it! The members of United Egg Producers must be really concerned about free range hens. The popularity of free range eggs has ta be cuttin' into their profits somehow or they wouldn't have commissioned a study or felt it worth a press release.

I'm one who buys free range eggs. I just like the idea that the hens are doing what's natural. I want them to peck on dirt, to chip at rocks, have beaks, run around outside or do whatever it is that chickens do when they're in the wild.

I read sometime ago that "free range" doesn't mean what it seems to mean. According to the info I read, technically the label can be used even if the chickens are only let out to roam for an hour or two or some set time. The rest of the time they can be in cages. I hope that's not true.

I know "they" (there's that elusive, pervasive, always-to-be-blamed "they" again) remove the beaks from the birds when they're crammed into small spaces. I don't know if all companies do that or if it's just done under certain circumstances. It's been a long time since I did any reading on chickens and egg laying. Somehow I always seem to have other tasks that crowd that one out...

Not sure if they get to keep their beaks if they're free range. Can you tell I'm not sure about much of anything when it comes to chickens... I hate the idea of torturing any animal. I'm not totally adverse to eating their by-products (eggs, milk, cheese).

When it comes to eggs, my main concern is the hormones and antibiotics that are prevalent in meats, poultry and pork. And probably many other foods we eat. That's a subject that deserves more attention than a single paragraph or even a single blog. Maybe someday I'll tackle it.

While reading the press release, I kept getting a giggle from the title "United Egg Producers." Somehow I don't think the chickens have united! Although, a poultry union sounds like it would be loads of fun... Chickens of the world unite, save your beaks, free worms for all!

Here's the article that sparked this ramble:

United Egg Producers: Are Free Range Birds Happier? Maybe Not!

ATLANTA, Dec. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Animal rights activists have long alleged that hens in modern cages live a horribly stressed life, but new research appears to debunk those claims. Researchers have discovered that free range hens experience just as much or more stress than hens raised in modern, conventional cages.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Jeff Downing at University of Sydney measured corticosterone, a hormone produced in response to stress or fear, in eggs from free range and modern caged hens. The study showed that the levels of the hormone were similar in both types of eggs.
Free range hens deal with pressures that hens in modern cages do not, researchers explained. For instance, hens in modern cages are protected from outside predators, while free range hens are not. "They are constantly in fear of attack by predators," said Downing. "A shadow (a bird flying overhead) comes over and they are completely startled."

Hens in modern cages also are protected from many of the manure-borne diseases and parasites that affect free range hens. And hens in modern cages are protected from extreme weather which adds stress to free range hens which are not protected. Modern cages also help prevent infection and spread of the avian influenza virus which can affect wild birds and outdoor flocks of hens. Free range eggs can cost up to three times as much as conventional eggs.

"This study confirms what America's egg farmers already knew," said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, the nation's leading trade association for U.S. family egg farmers. "That well-run, clean modern cage housing systems have many benefits for hens as well as consumers." Separate research studies also show that hens raised in conventional cages tend to have fewer diseases and live longer, Gregory added.

Modern egg production under the UEP Certified animal welfare program provides hens with nutritious food, clean water, fresh air and sufficient space to allow hens to stand, turn around, lie down, stretch and preen. Farms are inspected annually to ensure compliance. Consumers should look for the UEP Certified logo on cartons from participating farmers. For more information visit, http://www.uepcertified.com/.

UEP developed the UEP Certified program for modern egg production from scientific guidelines established by an independent advisory committee of top animal welfare experts in the U.S.
Source: United Egg Producers

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