Jewish Journal

Caged and Traumatized: A Closer Look at the Egg Industry

by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

April 29, 2012 | 7:47 am

For years, my favorite Sunday morning breakfast was scrambled eggs. Once I learned about what was going on in the egg industry that breakfast lost its innocence, and I found egg alternatives. Do you know where your eggs come from?

In the United States today, close to 300 million hens are suffering inside tiny battery cages that do not allow for any walking or natural movement. A dozen hens can be jammed into a cage that is only 2 feet by 2 feet. The hens are kept in the dark so that they are calmed by the overcrowding and their beaks are sliced off with a searing hot blade to ensure they are less likely to peck a cage-mate to death. The day-old male chicks, worthless to the egg industry, are killed right after birth (usually in a high-speed grinder called a “macerator”). The hens are also killed after only about two years of life when their egg production starts to wane.

To attempt to address this brutal problem of cage size, the egg industry leaders, the United Egg Producers, uniquely joined with the Humane Society to call for better federal standards on hen cages. The improvements would require hens be given a little bit more space (up to 144 square inches each). However this bill (H.R. 3798) would take too many years to be implemented (an 18 year transition period) and it wouldn’t address the most horrific issues in the industry leaving the hens in inhumanely small and cramped cages and treated cruelly. Many animal welfare advocate groups have called it the “rotten egg bill” and argue that we need more.

Dr. Jana Kohl, a Founding Member & the Chief Executive Advisor of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, said “The public doesn’t realize that they’ll still be buying eggs from hens who endure a tortured existence. The increase in cage size is so negligible that the hens still won’t be able to walk or open their wings. Other cruel practices will also continue. This is throwing the public crumbs and the egg industry hopes it will suffice to fool consumers into coming back into the egg aisle. The egg industry knows the conditions will still be deplorable and the public should know it too.”

We have always known that hens can feel physical pain, but last month scientists revealed that hens have a very unique capacity for empathy as well. This is a fact the Torah has acknowledged for thousands of years. The Torah has a very special mitzvah to preserve the dignity of hens called shiluach ha’ken (Deuteronomy 22:6). On the technical level of this mitzvah, one is commanded to send away the mother bird before taking eggs. The broader value of ensuring compassion for all animals requires that the hens must be provided cage-less free-range treatment, with respect shown for their emotional experience. 

The laws of kashrut allow for the consumption of regular eggs purchased in any food store without any kosher supervision but today we must transcend the letter of the law to ensure we are on the forefront of creating a more just world. No egg, produced in today’s horrific industry, is fit for consumption.

The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute calls upon all members of the Jewish community to act and urge all congressional leaders to demand more humane treatment for hens (and all animals). Further, as a nation committed to justice and holiness, we should all consider changing our diets to only consume food produced ethically. 

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, the new Jewish vegan movement and the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available on Amazon. In April 2012, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the most influential rabbis in America.

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Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz...

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