Vote to eliminate battery cages for hens

By Lauren Hancock

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(Steven Lilley/Flickr)

(Steven Lilley/Flickr)

When consumers picture farms, oftentimes our thoughts go to idyllic open fields with cows grazing, chickens foraging and pigs rolling around in the mud to cool off. Even if we do picture farms that are more similar to the CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) that produce the majority of our animal products today, we still tend to think that most animals there are at least content and given the basic necessities. Obviously, what is considered a necessity will vary from person to person. Still, the vast majority of us certainly agree that healthy food, clean water and room to move and sleep peacefully are the bare minimum needs for animals that spend their entire lives producing products for our use.

While cutting out meat or animal products entirely is a contentious issue, I wanted to write this article in support of the Massachusetts ballot initiative to require that all eggs produced in the state come from cage-free hens. The measure is being put up for a vote in November and supports the elimination of battery cages in animal agriculture.  

For those of you who don’t know what a battery cage is, chances are that the eggs in your omelet, cake or breakfast sandwich came from one. Over 95 percent of all hens—approximately 250 million—are kept in these cages. Battery cages are far from a content way for hens to live a life and the 95 percent of hens that are kept in these cages are kept there for their entire lives.

Right now, you might be wondering how bad these cages can actually be. Here’s a helpful comparison: if we were to scale the amount of room a hen gets in a battery cage to human size, one person would be living in the equivalent of a shower stall for his or her entire life. If you’ve ever seen a hen, imagine her standing on a piece of printer paper.

Section one of the measure describes a clear purpose and explanation for why Massachusetts’ voters should support the bill:

“The purpose of this Act is to prevent animal cruelty by phasing out extreme methods of farm animal confinement, which also threaten the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers, increase the risk of foodborne illness, and have negative fiscal impacts on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

If this initiative passes, it will not only help farm animals themselves, but it will also improve human health. It’s not well known that high-density confinement (think living on a piece of paper) of farm animals breeds illnesses that impact the health of workers on the farms and can spread to the average consumer. This contamination can spread through the eggs themselves and also, through a process called horizontal gene transfer, bacteria can acquire dangerous traits and immunity to antibiotics. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) even says that in factory farming “the use of antibiotics… should be phased out” because it is such a public safety concern.

The most significant argument against eliminating battery cages is cost. California has already eliminated battery cages for their hens and according to statistics for California-produced eggs, the largest increase in price we will see is about 75 cents per dozen eggs. As a master’s student in a biology program here at UMass, I care deeply about environmental health and human health. This increase is a minor price to pay for our health; eggs aren’t heathy in large quantities because of cholesterol and fat (and the aforementioned bacterial contamination).

I believe that for our own benefit, the benefit of the environment and for the animals themselves, the very least the hens of Massachusetts deserve is 1.5 square feet of floor space. Please stand with me and, if you can vote, support this ballot measure in November.

Lauren Hancock is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]