Perhaps the easiest step we can take to encourage more humane agricultural practices is to buy eggs that are produced by farms where the hens are ‘free-range’, i.e., not confined to tiny spaces but free to roam on pastures. And indeed more and more people seem to be buying such eggs. In my local supermarket, the brands that sold them used to have a small space in the egg section but now it has expanded considerably as people become more aware of what exactly goes on in egg farms.
But as consumers vote with their purchases, some of the factory farms facing declining market share are fighting back by sponsoring legislation that demands that grocers carry their products.
As consumers have awoken to the barbaric conditions of the egg industry, they have begun to turn toward incrementally more humane alternatives, such as cage-free eggs, as well as truly humane options, such as eggs from pasture-raised hens at places like Vital Farms.
The market, as they say, is speaking. As Americans become more educated about the morally repellent practices of this industry, they are increasingly refusing to reward barbaric practices by buying eggs that are the byproduct of industrial torture.
But in response, the powerful poultry industry — which long invoked principles of the “free market” to justify their torture-derived products being available to consumers — have now reversed course. With consumers choosing more humane egg products, lobbyists for the poultry industry are pushing laws that would force stores to carry their products even if doing so offends their moral sensibilities and ethical judgments.
In Iowa, the nation’s biggest egg-producing state, lawmakers, at the behest of the poultry lobby, are making their most brazen attempt yet to fight the tides of change: simply making it a legal requirement for grocery stores to carry inhumanely produced eggs. A new bill in the Iowa state legislature, overwhelmingly passed by the Iowa House of Representatives on Monday by a vote of 81-17, would force any Iowa grocery store that participates in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) federal food assistance program and that sells what the bill refers to as “specialty eggs” to also stock “conventional eggs.” “Specialty eggs” are cage-free eggs, free range eggs, or “enriched colony cage” eggs — eggs produced in larger cages with perches and other amenities in them. “Conventional eggs” are eggs from hens confined in battery cages.
Animal rights activists have succeeded in making greater sectors of the public aware of, and repelled by, the extreme cruelty and barbarism of industrial farming corporations in the U.S. But these corporations still wield one last weapon, and it is a potent one: the ability to use their financial muscle and lobbying power to dictate laws, particularly in farming states. Their latest ploy demonstrates how desperate they have become —but also how powerful they remain.
Consumers have their own power: their refusal to reward industrial farms and corporations for imposing gratuitous and incomprehensible suffering on living beings by purchasing their products. That is now one of the primary fronts animal rights activists view as a key to ensuring more humane treatment for animals in the U.S. and abroad.
It is interesting that the very people who praise the ‘free market’ as the ultimate god that should determine all economic activity are the first to push for government protections when the free market goes against their interests.