I've always bought free-range eggs. I've never thought twice about it. If I'm a bit strapped for cash, I will forgo eggs, rather than buying caged.
A story on page seven today got me thinking, for perhaps the first time ever, about why I do this. SAFE Tauranga is joining a national campaign to stop Countdown stores stocking battery farmed eggs. This follows the decision by Woolworths Australia, owned by the parent company of Countdown, to stop selling caged eggs by 2018.
So why do I buy free-range? I've decided it must be solely to placate that feeling of guilt that washes over me during my perusal of the egg aisle. My eyes catch sight of the cheap prices underneath the battery caged cartons. Then, a vague thought about the suffering of chickens surfaces briefly and I reach for a box labelled free-range.
With meat, it is often impossible to know how the animals are raised unless you do a hefty amount of research, and even then you probably can't be sure of the facts. With eggs, it says blatantly on the packet whether or not the animals have been treated that little bit more fairly during their lifetime. Unfortunately, the egg-laying industry, even those companies that produce free-range eggs, employs practices I find alarming. As the trade uses only hens, unwanted male chicks are killed as soon as they hatch - that's over 200 million a year.
So I think one chain of stores not selling battery caged eggs doesn't go far enough. In the US, United Egg Producers, the industry group that represents 95 per cent of egg producers in the country, announced this year that they would end the process of "culling" male chicks by 2020. Instead, they'll use technology that determines the sex of a chicken embryo while still inside an egg. It would be great to see that happen here, too. I get it - companies that produce eggs are businesses and businesses exist to make money. The food industry is highly competitive, and to stay in business farmers need to adopt the most cost-effective methods of production. But we know that free-range eggs are more ethical than battery caged eggs.
Next time you're in the egg aisle, maybe the guilt will get you, too.