9 out of 10 chickens die in Spain without having seen the sun

9 out of 10 chickens die in Spain without having seen the sun
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“Either we die free, or we just die!” Ginger shouts, sick to death of living in Mrs. and Mr. Tweedy’s open-air prison. “There are only two options?” another hen responds, and the whole family laughs. The wonderful movie Chicken Run [Evasión en la granja] It portrays a small English poultry farm from the 1950s from which the chickens try to escape, again and again, without success. And despite being subjected to a relentless regime of terror – Auschwitz-style egg counting, extermination of the least productive companions and the final solution: turning them all into chicken pot pie – the chickens on the Tweedy farm are, by far, quotes, some lucky ones.

In the Spanish State, 9 out of 10 chickens die without ever having seen the sky, without the sun having ever touched them in their lives and without the rain ever having wet their feathers. In other words, as you read these lines, we have 42 million chickens locked up day and night in industrial warehouses, waiting for their egg production to stop being economically profitable for a businessman who will kill them when they are between 12 and 18 months old. of life and have laid between 300 and 500 eggs.

If they are not killed, these birds live between seven and ten years, but like a farm, no matter how small, it is a business – it should be noted that it is often loss-making: “I’m tired of making little money!” cries the woman. Mrs. Tweedy – when the chickens stop being productive they are “fired”, that is, they are sent to the slaughterhouse to die by electrocution, asphyxiation and/or decapitation.

Chickens locked in cages

The European Commission decided at the end of 2023 to sacrifice the reform of animal welfare regulations that should, among other minimum issues, prohibit cages in livestock farming. The foreseeable rise in the price of eggs – among other products – would fuel inflation and add another reason for the countryside to go all out against Brussels. They have them, if I may say so, by the balls. However, 84% of European people believe that the welfare of “animals of farm” must be better protected in their country, and up to 60% would be willing to pay more, according to the latest Eurobarometer, from 2023. And the egg industry – which in Spain generates 1.5 billion euros a year – knows how to take advantage of this.

Returning to the latest data from the Ministry, right now we have more than 32 million chickens – 70% of the total – living poorly in tiny wire and plastic cages. Thus, the eggs that we label with a 3 – those from caged hens – represent the vast majority of the eggs that are marketed in Spain, and I insist on this idea because some and others make us believe the opposite: the hens that come out in the ads and in the egg boxes of the super bell free and they seem happy; On the radio they have done the program from an ecological school farm of a very nice young couple, and on the news there has been an older woman, Teresa, who has a dozen chickens and a fox has eaten one, poor thing – poor Teresa, she understands-.

Deception and self-deception are enormous, because we refuse to believe that eggs come from overcrowded, confined and slaughtered chickens when production drops, like an egg vending machine that rusts. One last piece of information for the convinced and the unconvinced: the European regulations for the “protection” of chickens give the chickens the right to a space between bars of between 550 and 750 square centimeters or, in other words, to survive for a year or so. in the area of ​​a DIN-A4 sheet. I wouldn’t call it protection, precisely, in the same way that “being able to trim the beaks of chicks less than ten days old (…) to avoid cannibal practices” I wouldn’t call it “animal welfare” either.

“There are many supermarkets that are eliminating eggs from caged hens from the shelves,” explains Julia Elizalde, campaign manager at the Animal Welfare Observatory. “But we continue to denounce the presence of Animal Welfair certificates in eggs from 3 and in no case can there be animal welfare in a caged hen.” We will talk about the certificate circus another day.


Chickens locked in warehouses

To continue exporting more than 200,000 tons of eggs and to satisfy internal demand – we consume 140 eggs per person per year, as indicated by INE data – in Spain there are other alternative methods to cages. The 20% we need to get to the headline that 9 out of 10 chickens die without being touched by the sun are also raised in overcrowded conditions in industrial warehouses, but in this case they are on the ground, not piled up in cages. .

This system, very common in countries such as Germany, Holland, Austria – where there are no chickens in cages – Sweden and the United Kingdom, is a little more generous with space – the opposite would be impossible – and limits the density to no more than nine chickens per square meter. These lay the eggs that we label with the number 2, and to understand the absurdity of calling this “well-being,” I cite a graphic example: with the law in hand, a typical Barcelona apartment of 78 square meters could fit 700 chickens. Luckily for them and for us, this is not legal.

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This type of livestock farm has become the reference model for the European Union. Nor are they very popular among citizens because the industry and most of the media obviously prefer to sell us bucolic corrals and not these industrial warehouses in which we could play games. Where is Wally? ‘find the dead chickens’ version. Let us always be very clear about what is the norm and what is the exception.

Free-range and organic chickens

Chickens are curious animals by nature, who enjoy moving up and down in groups, flapping their wings clumsily, pecking at the ground looking for worms and ants, rolling in the sand, clucking defiantly and out of tune, and marking territory with their beaks. I insist, 90% of the chickens in the Spanish State cannot do this. The exception, and not the norm, are chickens, also exploited for their eggs, but with permission to go outdoors, and whose eggs we label with a 1 – or with a 0 if they are also fed organic food.

If we eat so many eggs it is because they are cheap, and they are cheap because the production is infamous.

It is as important not to deny the evidence – it is indisputable that these chickens live better than those that live confined and overcrowded – as it is to admit that this system cannot be part of the solution: with the data in hand, these chickens would provide each citizen with one egg a month, and not the 12 he consumes on average. The orderly transition towards this system is simply unviable: if we eat so many eggs it is because they are cheap, and they are cheap because the production is infamous.

Some live better and others worse, but hens, whether 0 or 3, suffer premature death when they have not reached even 25% of their life expectancy. And this is because even the smallest and most ecological farm, like the Tweedys’, conceives animals as investments from which they expect an economic return. A toxic relationship that we can choose not to fund. One small step for humanity, and one big step for chickens.

It will be for egg alternatives

To get out of this unhealthy relationship, the first thing is to reduce the consumption of eggs as much as possible and, of course, banish the 3 and 2 eggs from the shopping basket, as well as the processed ones that contain eggs, which are not few: mayonnaise, pasta, cookies, desserts, cakes… It’s not easy because eggs are everywhere – tell those with allergies – but it’s also true that if vegan activism does something well, it’s flooding the networks with wonderful recipes. , like those of the Veganuary challenge to adopt veganism.

In fact, in 21st century Europe there are many ways of discourage the diet. In the case of eggs, potato omelettes bound with chickpea flour, sponge cakes with ripe banana and flax seeds to gel flans are successful, among other options that show that, in the kitchen, when a door closes , many more are opening. Even for the laziest people there are already small businesses plant-based, like the Catalan Uobo, which sell bottles with “Europe’s first 100% vegetable beaten egg” and, between dystopia and utopia, American companies like Everyegg are already synthesizing liquid eggs in laboratories without chickens involved. There are alternatives for all tastes and budgets.

And one last note from a fan of the Aardman studio: the dark farm-prison of Chicken Run It is one of these free-range chicken farms where their happiness ends when the losses begin. The reference, for those who hate all this exploitation, is also found in this wonderful film: Ginger and her companions end up escaping from the Tweedy farm and settle in a sanctuary for chickens where no one will kill them the day they stop laying. eggs. We could call this and little else animal welfare. The rest, marketing.

This article is an adaptation and translation made by the author of this article from the chapter “Don’t touch my eggs: about chickens and prisons”, from the book Sediment to the farm (Ara Llibres).

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