What Do All Eggs Have in Common?

by Paul Darwin Picklesimer

Cage-Free, Free Range, Pasture Raised, Backyard, Organic. The United States’ egg industry has developed so many terms to describe the conditions present on its suppliers’ “farms”, but at the end of the day, they share one common trait: everyone there is considered property and they’re all being exploited.

My friends Ava, Sam and Mia were all recently rescued from Sunrise Farms, a “Certified Humane” egg supplier that boasts production of one million eggs per day and supplies to Whole Foods Market. Myself and others from Direct Action Everywhere’s Open Rescue Network entered Sunrise Farms, documented the conditions in multiple buildings and removed hens who were most desperately in need of medical attention.

Ava, whose story is being told in immersive virtual reality at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, suffered every day of her life. Her feet were completely mangled from standing on wires and she struggled to gain access to food and water. Her and Sam were rescued from a caged building. When I pulled Sam from their cage, I winced. Their body felt beaten and I feared they wouldn't survive the drive to the doctor. As I held Sam close to my heart, wrapped in a blanket, we walked out of the caged building, past giant pallets of their eggs, and headed toward the cage-free building a couple hundred feet away.

I waited outside, comforting Sam as best I could, and served as a lookout while the other team members donned their sanitary suits and boot covers. They entered the building while Sam and I waited outside. When the team emerged with Mia, I joined them from my lookout point. We drudged through fields and pine trees, passing each hen over barbed-wire fences before returning to our vehicle and driving to the veterinary clinic and finally to the animal sanctuary that would be their home.

The next morning, we watched Sam peer into a mirror for the first time and Ava ate and drank like never before. She finally stepped foot on grass and breathed fresh air and they both avoided the death sentence that awaits all hens before their second birthday when their egg production drops and they’re no longer a viable investment. We watched Mia, from the cage-free building, sit, then eventually lay. Her blood work from the vet revealed anemia and we began to fear the worst. When we rescue hens who are most in need of care, sometimes that care is not enough. Days later, despite our best efforts, Mia died from a broken heart - literally. Her necropsy found vegetative valvular endocarditis and myocarditis, a bacterial heart infection caused by the bacteria that cause strep in her case. She was our second cage-free rescue in recent months to pass away from the same cause and we can only assume that the extremely high airborne particulate levels present in cage-free buildings played a part in their deaths.

Given how brutal life in cages is, the sad truth is that life on a cage-free farm is riddled with untold horrors as well. Mortality rates in cage-free buildings are much higher than in caged ones due in part to the horrible air quality produced when thousands of hens kick up fecal laden dust and even more horrifically when thousands are left to fight amongst themselves for food, water and spots to perch. A 2016 Direct Action Everywhere investigation covered by the New York Times exposed rampant cannibalism on a California cage-egg farm that supplies Costco, and everything I have seen since then has confirmed that cannibalism is an epidemic on cage-free farms.

The ever-growing open rescue movement is making it increasingly hard to believe that there is anything just about any form of egg production - and saving hens’ lives in the process. Visit an animal sanctuary and meet someone like Ava or Sam to see that they’re a lot like you or I or the cats or dogs we might live with at home. They feel pain, fear, joy, sadness, curiosity and love. Unlike cats or dogs, though, they spent most of their life in what is essentially the largest death row ever seen. It might just move you to join the social justice movement for animal liberation and visit a “farm” to give someone like Mia a second chance at life.

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