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How an Undercover Investigation Refreshed Magical Thinking

Do You Know Where Your Eggs Were Laid? And How They Affect the Bigger Picture

Our eggs come from Mule's Ear Farm, belonging to a coworker, who sells a dozen for two dollars.

When she's away from work or her hens aren't producing, we buy organic, free-range eggs from the grocery. But we prefer hers for their rich, dark orange yolks that make everything taste cheesy.

The point being, we know where our eggs come from — which was only half a relief after reading about last week's undercover investigation conducted by The Humane Society of the United States at Kreider Farms, a battery cage egg production facility in Pennsylvania.

The accusations, paired with video: egg-laying hens in Kreider facilities are crammed into claustrophobic wire cages with “injured and dead hens, including mummified bird carcasses” and those whose legs, wings or heads had been mutilated or severed by feeding machinery or cage wire.

Evidence of this extreme animal cruelty, where I first read of it in The New York Times, was buried in an opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof. The author, a former farmboy, always found chickens to be “the least individualistic of the animals we raised.”

His column was strong, but his opinion fell short of a radio interview I'll never forget with poet, author and activist Alice Walker last May on The Diane Rehm Show.

Walker's book, The Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir, is full of letters to her chickens, her pets, her companions, who she finds very individualistic indeed.

And for her, it's never been about how smart they are.

“I believe that the world is magical,” she told Diane, “and I believe that if we can feel that and get into that with whoever's around us and whatever's around us, then we make it just super joyous.

“So my relationship with them is one of great love and warmth, and even though I understand perfectly that they don't care. I mean, you know, they are happy if I'm there and cuddling them and they're on my lap and they're eating good food and I have a garden planted right around their little condo.”

Magical thinking can be a valuable component of pet ownership — the concept of unspeakable partnership between species. We can't know what our dogs are cats are thinking, really, but we take the plunge to believe we're all in it together.

Despite her maternal instict toward them, Alice Walkers still eats chicken. But that's beside the point.

“If you're thinking of other beings as having consciousness, you're thinking about something other than just your dinner, you know? ... It's terrible that our children eat so much chicken, for instance, without having a clue of what the chicken itself is.”

Kreider Farms denied last week's accusations with claims of complete care and state-of-the-art facilities, of spontaneous inspections since the allegations, including one by the Pennsylvania State Board of Veterinary Medicine — all with a “clean bill of health.” The company says more than 80 percent of its chickens are housed in larger, modern cages than those pictured, and questions whether the videos were taken inside its facilities at all.

Kreider also came out in full support of national egg production standards, a pet project of the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers, a union to which Kreider doesn't belong.

Industrial damage control, I get that. I hope it's all true.

But if the heartwrenching films weren't taken there, they were still taken somewhere — and animals lovers, all, make sure this story isn't thrown out with the week's news.

Sarah Barnett April 18, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Thanks for spreading the word about the investigation, and the importance of knowing where your food comes from. I work at the HSUS, and wanted to also encourage their federal lawmakers to support HR 3798 (the legislation mentioned above). This legislation would require all egg producers using battery cages to replace them and to get on a track to double the space allotments over time for the birds. HR 3798 would also limit ammonia levels, ban starvation-based molting, and institute a labeling program for consumers, so they'd know what kinds of housing systems hens live in to produce eggs for the table. You can contact your legislators to urge them to support HR 3798 here: https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=5503 and also by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

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