Is it ethical to eat eggs at all?
Many people would argue that it is not ethical to keep hens for eggs as animals are not ours to use in any way. Whatever the conditions they are kept in; free range, organic or in your backyard, hens are still treated as commodities.
Plus there are environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution from egg farms, and soya in the feed linked to deforestation in South America.
For many vegans, the very concept of an ethical egg is impossible. Animal rights group Peta argues that females’ rights over their own reproductive systems should be respected, no matter the species, asking: “Can you call yourself a feminist if you eat eggs?”
If animal rights are important to you then not buying eggs might be the right choice, because even the highest welfare organic eggs, or eggs from a small farm where you can see the hens running around in the field, still mean hens are treated as commodities for our use.
On the other hand, you might think that buying eggs from a small farmer that keeps hens in the biodynamic way is OK and minimises animal welfare and environmental issues.
Likewise for keeping hens yourself, but not many of us have the space to do that adequately – they need regular supply of fresh pasture and if you are keeping them penned in, it’s still some sort of cage. (If you are going to keep hens, better to get rescue hens. Contact British Hen Welfare Trust.)
If not buying processed food, like ready-made vegan egg replacers, is your priority, you can always opt for the individual, less processed egg replacer ingredients such as flaxseeds or aquafaba, depending on what it is you're making.
Animal welfare in egg production
Over 60% of the world’s eggs, that is from nearly 4.5 billion hens, are still produced in industrialised systems, mainly battery cages. Whilst progress may have been made in the UK, there are still animal rights and welfare issues associated with eggs, even ‘good’ ones. Plus, there is still the carbon and environmental impact.
The modern laying hen has been selected from jungle fowl and, as the name suggests, they’ve evolved in a woodland environment where there is lots of cover and trees around. In the wild, hens live in a flock with a rooster and naturally lay 10-15 eggs per year, but farmed hens have been bred to lay 250-300 eggs a year.
A hens natural lifespan is 5-10 years, but farmed hens are ‘spent’ and killed after 72 weeks – that’s around 1.5 years – when their egg production begins to wane. At a hen’s lowest lifespan, that’s equivalent to a human being ‘spent’ at 24 years of age.
Male chicks are of no use for egg or meat production and are killed almost immediately after hatching. They are either thrown into an industrial grinder (‘macerator’) while still alive or gassed to death, the preferred method in the UK.
All of this may make you want to reconsider your daily egg and use vegan egg replacers instead.