So ever since I read the two articles in favor of the battery-caged hens, I have been haunted with uncertainty and self-doubt. I finally emailed Kath Rogers, a fellow environmentalist on the UCSD campus, about the whole matter, and here is the email I got back:
SO good to hear from you!
I'm so glad you asked that question - I saw that article too and here’s my response to it (sorry it’s lengthy!!!).
The farm described in that article is called Armstrong Egg Farms, and they are not objective in this debate. Armstrong contributed $65,000 into the "No on Prop 2" campaign in California. The owner, Mr. Armstrong, was the guy flying around the state to defend battery cages during the Prop 2 campaign. He was the sole person who showed up in opposition to us when lots of us testified in support of Prop 2 at the San Diego city council meeting (the council ended up supporting Prop 2!). He regularly speaks out against cage-free egg production and was a spokesperson for the agribusiness coalition that unsuccessfully fought against Prop 2.
Armstrong Farms is a huge egg farm which uses lots of battery cages. He created a (very) small portion of his farm which produces "cage free" eggs. His "cage-free" hens are crowded, dirty, old and many are losing feathers--and he wants to keep it that way for his public tours, so that he can "prove" that battery cages are good. He offers "comparative tours" of very young (ie, white and fluffy) hens in battery cages and then a tour of older (missing some feathers) cage-free hens, and then say: "See -- hens are better off confined in battery cages."
In reality, scientific analyses of the various systems all come to a far different conclusion from that of Mr. Armstrong. The definitive review of the science on this topic is at http://tinyurl.com/5rbkkl , and concludes: "Regardless of how a battery-cage confinement system is managed, all caged hens are permanently denied the opportunity to express most of their basic behavior within their natural repertoire. The science is clear that this deprivation represents a serious inherent welfare disadvantage compared to any cage-free production system." A much shorter summary is available from the Humane Society at: http://www.hsus.org/farm/camp/nbe/compare.html
This is not to say that cage-free is totally cruelty-free because I still have problems with the fact that all farms destroy the male baby chicks because there is no use for them, etc. However, battery cages are one of the worst forms of animal cruelty - caging animals so that they can barely move for their entire lives. This is why all of the animal welfare and environmental organizations pushed so hard to pass Prop 2 to ban battery cages, including The Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, Center For Food Safety, California Veterinary Medical Association, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Center for Science and the Public Interest.
Let me know if that answers your question. We should definitely stay and touch and work together on for animals and the environment on campus - I transferred in the fall, and am now officially a senior, so I'll be here for another year! Thanks for all of the AMAZING work you guys are doing with VEG - I'd like to get more involved with it!
I can finally sleep again.