The plight of egg-laying chickens in Canada


November 29, 2005

Canadian-born Pamela Anderson is continuing her campaign for animal welfare by urging Loblaws to label eggs that come from caged hens.

A letter addressed to Loblaws president John Lederer includes a request to label all Battery eggs as “eggs from caged hens.” “There is no reason why Loblaws cannot put up signs or label the shelves at point of purchase. This will allow consumers to decide for themselves whether or not they want to support this cruelty,” Anderson wrote.
In the letter she also says, “I would like to draw your attention to the plight of battery or egg-laying hens. The Vancouver Humane Society and the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals recently released video coverage of a battery farm in Ontario. The images from this farm are appalling.

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  • PETA vs KFC
  • In May 2005, Anderson rejected a lunch invitation from John Bitove, the head of KFC Canada. They have come under fire recently over the way their chickens are raised and slaughtered.

The hens are very overcrowded and are covered in feces from the stacks of cages above. They are suffering from severe feather-loss. Some of the cages contain the dead, rotting carcasses of other birds.”

98% of Canada’s 26 million egg laying hens are kept in battery cages

Battery cages usually hold four or more hens which are crowded into an area measuring just sixteen inches wide. The cages are stacked in tiers and lined up in rows in huge sheds. The hens are crowded so tightly, that they cannot even stretch their wings or legs. Constantly rubbing against the wire cages, they suffer from severe feather loss, and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions. Some birds to not survive this ordeal – it is not uncommon to discover rotting bird carcasses inside the cages.

The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) and the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) are asking the public to stop buying eggs from hens raised in cruel and inhumane conditions. They say that more humane alternatives do exist and are readily available in supermarkets across the country. “Certified organic, free-range or free-run eggs all come from hens that were not in cages.”

Their video footage were taken at a battery (egg) farm in Southern Ontario during the summer of 2005. The images show birds crammed into small cages. Feathers chafed off. Open sores. Birds in lower tiers covered in feces. Birds who have fallen out of their cages left to languish on the manure pile or die in the alley between the rows of other birds. This is standard practice across Canada. No laws are being broken despite the fact it is clear that hens suffer immensely.

Write a letter

In a Canadian Press interview, Geoff Wilson, senior vice-president of Loblaws, indicated that Loblaws would consider labelling eggs from caged hens using in-store signs if there was significant consumer interest. CCFA is asking people to politely write to Loblaws and show them that consumers want clear labelling and more cage-free egg options.

Alternatives – What do the egg labels mean?

Updated: May 2008

Alternatives to standard egg production methods are being used in Canada to a small degree. While these are an improvement, they are by no means free of cruelty. Chickens can live up to 12 years, but most alternatively-raised hens are still hauled to slaughter after a year or two. And male chicks are killed at birth, just as they are in factory farms.

Author, Michael Pollan, visited free-range chicken and egg farms to see conditions for himself as part of the research for his book, Omnivore’s Dilemma. He discovered that a lot of companies market their eggs under family-farm-sounding names but are in fact huge industrial-scale operations. For example, Petaluma markets their “natural free range” eggs under the label, Judy’s Family Farm. What “free range” means in this case is an enormous shed with a small door out to a tiny grassy area. The farm managers don’t want the birds going outside, since these “defenseless, crowded, and genetically identical birds are exquisitely vulnerable to infection. This is one of the larger ironies of growing organic food in an industrial system.”

Pollan visited a typical organic chicken farm, where the little doors to the outside remain closed until the birds are five weeks old. They are slaughtered at seven weeks, so “free range turns out to be not so much a lifestyle for these chickens as a two-week vacation option.” (page 172)

Certified organic eggs
According to Vancouver Humane Society, Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC) and Pro-cert certified organic egg production systems are the most humane systems presently operating in Canada. Eggs certified by these two organizations are produced in higher welfare systems where hens can behave more naturally.

Aviaries are large, open barn systems who may or may not be free range. Birds generally have access to platforms (thus increasing the available floor space) and litter (permitting dust bathing) as well as nest boxes, which satisfy their natural nesting instincts. Aviary systems may or may not be overcrowded.

Free range
Generally speaking, free range eggs come from chickens who have some access to the outside, but how much access? The U.S. regulates the use of the term on chicken but not on eggs, and doesn’t stipulate how much outdoor time is required. Canada regulates neither. No other criteria, such as environmental quality, size of the outside area, number of birds, or space per bird, are included in this term. Typically, free-range hens are debeaked at the hatchery, and have only 1 to 2 square feet of floor space per bird. The birds may or may not have litter and access to nests and perches.

Free run (or cage-free)
No one polices this one, but the birds are supposed to be allowed to run around large open-concept barns. Wire mesh floors, and no sunshine for these guys. They may or may not have litter in which to scratch and dust-bathe, and they may or may not be overcrowded.

Omega 3
According to NOW Magazine, “flax-fed hens lay eggs that are better for your heart, but don’t think this label means the birds were able to make a prison break, eat organic feed or be antibiotic-free.”

Bottom line: The most humane solution is to eat vegan egg substitutes. The second best option is to ask questions by calling egg companies or visiting farmers’ markets. Small producers tend to be better than the larger ones. Karma Food Coop in Toronto, noted for evaluating their products based on humane considerations, announced in March 2007 that they were discontinuing Rowe’s organic eggs (labeled as Green Valley) because they did not meet their requirements. They are now selling eggs from Homestead, Best Choice, Vita, and Organic Meadow.

“As all free range animals are still viewed as objects to be killed for food, they are subject to abusive handling, transport, and slaughter. Free-range animals, like all animals used for their milk and eggs, are still slaughtered at a fraction of their normal life expectancy.” – Associated Press, March 11, 1998 (via Vegan Outreach)

Sources: Vancouver Humane Society: Battery Egg Farm Alternatives,
NOW magazine: The truth behind the labels, Oct 11, 2005,
Vegan Outreach What about Free-Range? (includes two photos)

References and more information:

The Truth About Canada’s Egg Industry
Part of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) campaign to end factory farming. Full report, photos, video, expert opinions, and letter writing.

Chicken Out 
A project of the Vancouver Humane Society. Includes information about what the labels mean.

Separating the good eggs from the bad
– An Oct 2007 article from the Globe and Mail highlighting egg stats.
“Six billion eggs are cracked in Canadian kitchens each year. … because free-range conditions and the amount of outdoor time is neither regulated nor policed in Canada, it’s best to buy certified organic free-range eggs. These hens are fed an organic diet, and the farm is inspected for a long list of requirements.”

Glenn Gaetz: Understanding “cruelty-free” eggs
March 2009. “Humane. Organic. Cage-free. Free-range. Free-run. Cruelty-free. Natural. With so many different designations, it’s hard to know which egg is the best egg.” Excellent info on the problems with backyard egg production.…

Filed under: Animal Issues