A Mercy For Animals investigator went undercover at a U.S. egg factory and found live hens kept in tiny cages with decomposing birds, animals with open wounds, and chickens so calcium deficient they laid eggs without shells.
The investigator describes appalling conditions in dark, windowless sheds, which can be as long as a football field. Here, hundreds of thousands of chickens are forced to live for more than a year—nearly the entirety of their short lives. They are kept in cages so small that they cannot even spread their wings or move without stepping on other birds. In the United States, the vast majority of egg-laying hens are kept in tiny cages just like the ones in this video.
Hens like these have been bred to lay far more eggs than their wild ancestors ever would, laying one egg nearly every day. In fact, the average commercial egg-laying chicken in the United States lays 294 eggs a year, while their direct ancestors, the red junglefowl, lays just 10 to 15 a year.
Laying so many eggs depletes the hens’ bodies of calcium, needed to form eggshells. As a result, their bones often become brittle, and some birds have so little calcium left in their bodies they lay eggs without shells. The investigator said, “I witnessed many hens with broken bones or open wounds but saw none of them receive individual veterinary care.”
Many chickens do not survive the horrific conditions. Those who die are left to rot in the tiny cages, and live hens are forced to stand on or against the decomposing bodies.
At the end of their short lives, the birds are violently removed from their cages, carried upside down by their legs, and stuffed into cages for transport to slaughter. Chickens are sensitive, complex individuals capable of empathizing with their peers and creating strong friendships. Despite this, hens in factory farms are treated like unfeeling objects.
In addition to extreme neglect, disease prevention in the egg factory was not taken seriously. One of the most basic biosecurity measures in agriculture is to step through a tray of disinfectant before entering a building with live animals, yet the investigator “observed workers routinely bypassing the disinfectant tray.”
To make matters worse, the U.S. government recently announced it would stop requiring full-time government inspectors in plants that process egg products, meaning inspectors will visit a plant only once per shift. This decrease in oversight could pose serious risks to food safety.