Egg on Whose Face?by Brendon Bosworth / 08.10.2009
The life of a battery hen is pure misery. At just a day old the hapless creature is debeaked – its beak shoved against a scalding hot machine blade (watch video footage of debeaking here). This is akin to having your nose and lips sliced off with a panga that’s been lying in hot coals for an hour or so. At the same time, its toes are cut off so that it won’t scratch the backs of the pathetic beasts stuffed in the cage beneath it. Incarcerated in a cage with less than an A4 page worth of space to call its own, crammed up against its pitiful brethren, it serves its 12 months feeding from a trough, pushing out eggs, and likely wondering why the hell it landed up in the agricultural equivalent of Belsen. The air is stale, the reek of ammonia emanating from the piles of shit festering below the cages overpowering. It chokes the respiratory system. Drained of calcium to form egg shells, many of the wretched hens develop a severe from of osteoporosis – caged layer fatigue – leaving them with rickety bones that crumble and crack. At the end of it all, when the reproductive system has been drained to its last ovum, the featherless, tortured shell of a bird is crammed into a truck and taken to a cull farm alongside a broken mass of equally traumatized animals, then flogged off to buyers who sell ‘em in the townships.
Initially, I was going to follow this vignette with the type of big-business-profit-before-ethics-corporate bashing Mahala loves to dish out. I’m still going to do that, but give you a slightly toned down version. This Saturday is world egg day (yip, believe it). Pick ‘n Pay is organizing one massive fry-up at the V&A Waterfront in a bid to earn a Guinness World Record for the biggest omelette ever made. Over 60 000 eggs, 500 kg of cheese, 200 kg of tomatoes and a 14 meter wide pan will be used to produce the behemoth, predicted to weigh in at 3000 kg. Strange, the things people strive to achieve. What an occasion for PnP to show its commitment to supporting humane farming methods. You’d think so. But originally the retail giant was going to use battery eggs from Humpty Dumpty. Not a good move for PnP who, on its website, bills itself as “a company [who] behaves instinctively according to an entrenched value system and truly believe[s] that we have a positive impact on the lives of all South Africans.” Not the winged, egg-laying South Africans then?
Yesterday morning I phoned Louise van der Merwe, the South African representative of animal rights group Compassion in World Farming and editor of Animal Voice, who had sent out a press release asking for consumers to boycott the event. I was looking to add juice to this story, but instead came away with news that placated me somewhat. After considerable uproar by PnP customers, and the efforts of Compassion in World Farming (SA), Ackerman’s store has opted to use free-range eggs for this mammoth breakfast. Ironically, the eggs will come from the same farm. Windmeul eggs, who owns Humpty Dumpty, also packs free-range eggs for PnP. The two sets of hens inhabiting completely different worlds, within spitting distance of each other. As to the destiny of the omelette, which I, the self-righteous, was preparing to get worked up about… ‘I bet they’re not even going to give it to people starving on the streets; they’ll probably just waste it all’… Foodbank will be dishing it out to those who need it. PnP and HD will also make a cash donation to this organization.
Ok, so Pick n Pay have vindicated themselves this time round and are doing something stellar by hooking up with Foodbank. Check social conscience. And this episode is a small victory for the consumer. But there are two problems here. One – Pnp changed their tune only once they realized their actions might cause a very public furore because many of their customers didn’t take kindly to the idea of ‘blood eggs’ going into that omelette. Wouldn’t it be swell if they came out with the free-range idea in the first place? All by themselves. Two – battery farming is psychopathic and, in my humble opinion, needs to stop. Commercial free-range farming might not equate to the birds living in the Garden of Eden, but at least they’re not having their beaks sliced off and their toes removed ala Josef Mengel style.
*Images courtesy Compassion in World Farming (SA).