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Consumers say it is ‘unacceptable’ to kill male chicks 24 hours after hatching, YouGov poll reveals

16/04/2024

Recent YouGov survey commissioned by animal protection organisation Animal Justice Project, reveals just how little consumers know about where their eggs come from.  
 
With the average consumer eating 200 eggs annually and a whopping 11 billion eggs laid by hens in the UK each year, the egg industry is colossal. Whether scrambled, fried or baked in a cake – eggs are seen by many as a budget friendly and convenient food. As popular choice for vegetarians too, eggs are big business in the UK. 
 
Free-range eggs may feel like a no brainer for conscientious shoppers because the packaging implies hens have access to the outdoors and a better quality of life. Sadly, free-range eggs aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  This YouGov survey demonstrates that British consumers remain uniformed about egg farming methods and practices, and sheds light on some disturbing facts that the industry is keeping well hidden.  
 
The Results  
In a survey of 2,305 GB adults, 66% purchased eggs regularly (every 2-3 days to every two weeks) and the majority (59%) said animal welfare and free-range was important to them when purchasing eggs.  
 
Most respondents (64%) thought that free-range hens have daily access to the outdoors and over half of those surveyed (61%) didn’t know what age free-range hens are killed in the egg industry.  On the contrary,  
Animal Justice Project’s most recent investigation revealed hens being kept inside for up to four days on three separate farms, despite being certified as free-range. Whilst a previous investigation in 2023 revealed free-range hens being viciously caught and slaughtered at just 18 months old – a common industry practice in commercial farms.  
 
Unsurprisingly, most respondents (57%) said that the killing of male chickens within 24 hours of hatching was unacceptable and almost all vegetarians surveyed (80%) agreed.  
 
Hidden secrets of the egg industry  
In the UK there are 39 million commercial laying hens being reared on free-range, organic and enriched cage farms. But what about the hens that produce the eggs, what kind of life do they live and what does free-range really mean?  

All male chicks in the egg industry are killed within 24 hours of being born, this is a disturbingly cruel practice which happens regardless of whether the birds are destined for caged, barn, free-range or organic farms. It’s not surprising that this is a practice the industry wants to keep under wraps.  
 
Most chicks (apart from organic birds) are debeaked. Debeaking is a painful procedure which removes around a third of a bird’s beak, without anaesthetic, and is intended to reduce feather pecking. Feather pecking can lead to feather loss, exposed and sore patches of skin and, in some cases, cannibalism. Stress, boredom and lack of space, mean that feather pecking is abundant on egg farms. 
 
Despite all major UK supermarkets and food companies committing to going cage-free for all of their eggs by 2025, cage-free does not mean cruelty-free. Currently, more than 70% of the UK’s eggs are cage-free, and around 30% come from hens kept in colony cages. These cages cram in between 40 and 80 hens per cage, giving each hen a total of 750cm2 of space each – not much more than an A4 sheet of paper. Each shed on a colony cage farm can pack in tens of thousands of hens.   

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Cage-free hens, regardless of whether they are kept in barns or free-range farms, don’t fare much better. Egg-laying hens are crammed into sheds with up to 16,000 other birds, with an average of nine hens packed in per square metre – that’s the equivalent of 14 adults sharing a one-bedroom flat.  
 
For eggs to be labelled ‘free-range’, birds must have continuous daytime access to outdoors. Although outdoor space is accessible, due to the sheer number of birds inside, they are often physically unable to reach the exit or are prevented by more dominant birds.  

Animal Justice Project’s countless investigations into caged and free-range egg-laying farms have revealed birds dying, dead and decaying. Their recent investigation exposed these issues in ‘high welfare’ RSPCA Assured farms supplying major supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Aldi, raising serious questions about the reliability of welfare labels.  
 
Once their egg production slows down, egg-laying hens are deemed unprofitable and sent to slaughter at a mere 18 months old. 

Before death, birds must first be caught and transported to the slaughterhouse. Catching teams are employed by farmers to catch, transport and slaughter hens, in a process known as ‘depopulation’. 

Animal Justice Project’s RSPCA Chicken catching investigation was a UK-first exposé of this disturbing practice. Their undercover footage showed birds repeatedly kicked and trodden on by workers, as well as being violently thrown into shed walls.  
 
This YouGov poll shows us that British consumers think animal welfare is important when purchasing eggs, that the public think free-range hens have access to outdoors and the killing of male chicks at birth is unacceptable. 
 
Claire Palmer, Founder and Director of Animal Justice Project, explains the importance of these findings: 
 
“This survey reveals just how little the public understand about how eggs are produced.  

Laying hens are tragically exploited as ‘egg machines’ within the egg industry, enduring immense suffering. Hens endure terrible conditions – crowded spaces, filth, mites, noise, panic and abuse. Hens are social, intelligent and sensitive animals who don’t deserve to suffer like this. It is essential that consumers see the grim reality of what they’re funding when they buy animal products. When animals are exploited for their ‘products’, their wellbeing will always come last, that’s why we implore consumers to consider adopting a plant-based diet.” 

The suffering that egg-laying hens are forced to endure is endless, from birth to death their life is full of cruelty.  Despite what the convincing marketing campaigns say, birds are being kept in horrific conditions and suffering is at the heart of the egg industry. Birds endure a miserable existence and are slaughtered at a young age, all for the sake of food. The only way to protect hens is to stop eating eggs and go vegan.  

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