Cruelty on Our Behalf - No Ethical Difference
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Would you throw an adorable little chick into a woodchipper?
Of course the answer is no. Yet, if you purchase eggs through mainstream channels, this is precisely the run-of-the-mill process completed to get that dozen or so eggs into your shopping trolley. Does delegating the mistreatment of animals to a third party, thereby “out of sight, out of mind”, make a meaningful difference from an ethical standpoint? How could it? After all, purchasing behaviour underpins the entire production system. Why is this gruesome process commonplace, occurring to countless thousands of sentient beings each and every day? To understand this, we need to briefly examine the poultry industry.
(I hold myself accountable here too. I buy eggs just the same.)
Most of us know about the conditions and all-too-often cruel slaughter that meat chickens are subjected to. These are called broiler chicken, suffer from skeletal, cardiovascular, ocular and many other dysfunctions. Before being killed, many suffer from premature burns.
In the area of egg production, the laying hens to this day are predominantly kept in battery cages. On their first day, they are debeaked, then kept in unconscionably small spaces, deprived of light, room to flag their wing or participate in any normal activities. Essentially tortured mentally and physically, after period of around two years, there are then slaughtered for meat or starved for an extended period to provoke an additional egg-laying period. Much of this is known (at least vaguely) in the community at large. But it is easy to ignore when the only exposure to chickens is a plastic-wrapped cut of meat.
A lesser known blight on our standing as a civilised species worthy of the name is the treatment of male chicks in the egg production chain, however. It is a practice in which are all complicit as consumers. You see, males are obviously completely useless commercially when it comes to the process of egg production. They are an unwanted by-product. A being determined to have nil value. Bear in mind: these are not the same chicken bread for meat; they area a different breed with a sub-optimal physical constitution for edible flesh. As a result, they are disposed of within hours. In the minority of cases they are suffocated with C02 or killed by a process of maceration (prolonged exposure to moisture). These approaches viewed as “kinder”, adopted where animal welfare organisations exert some level of influence. In the majority of cases, the male chicks (I ask you to picture a never-ending line of cute, fluffy chicks in your mind), are dumped on a conveyor belt and brutally ground up.    
Our Collective Attitude (?):
But what does it matter? They are suitable for neither eggs or meat. What a nuisance! One or two would be horrible. We do this by the million. It makes no difference.
Is it better to live a life of cruelty or to have life snuffed out within hours of birth? This is indeed an engrossing discussion for the philosophically-minded. In either case – and make no mistake – this is something we choose to do. We’ve decided might is right and the almighty dollar wins. Big agricultural wants to maximize its profits. Consumers want meat at the lowest possible prices. Our dominion over the natural world is unquestionable. And thus, we turn a blind eye.
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" - so the thought experiment goes. I submit to you, dear reader, that it does. Reality exists whether we are there to see it or disposed to acknowledge it. Similarly, the anguish of the broiler chicken and laying hen is real. And the plight of just-born chicks is debasing to our core. Because we are the cause. The invisible hand pulling the lever.
There is a better way: animals can be reared and killed humanely, albeit not in such a bewildering number; myriad vegan and vegetarian alternatives exist; lab-grown meat will soon become commercially viable; and those fortunate enough to own sufficient land can take responsibility for their own consumption.
Should business-as-usual continue, I think future generations will look upon us with dismay. Our practices will be seen as barbaric, much like we view dog-fighting [a], bull fighting [b], seal-clubbing [c] and the Japanese Taiji Dophin Hunt [d] today. Time to wake up and open our eyes.