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The only label you need on egg cartons: exploitative

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Knowing the ‘best a consumer can know’ means looking at the product you’re buying, and not just it’s fancy packaging.

An author by the name of James Hamblin contributed his ‘know-how’ on egg industry labelling in a piece published on The Atlantic. In it, he hopes to climb on the back of egg-eaters and give them his best Yoda impression in the furthering of the nonsensical lexicon that stamps the lids of egg cartons. No good way to kill a chicken, there is.

Simply put, it’s a regurgitation of a number of blogs (including this old NY Times piece) that attempts to make people comfortable (excited, even) with continuing to exploit animals under the guise of doing ‘good’ by choosing a ‘better’ product. The criticism of pointless labelling only leads readers to sink deeper into the bog of marketing phrases, still left thinking about chicken treatment instead of chicken use. Hamblin’s attempt to lead confused consumers that are “trying to feel okay about loving eggs” is basically the blind leading the blind, as he veers past morality without so much as a passing glance.

It begins with a small amount of truth, the irrelevancy of “natural” and “fresh” labelling on up-to 30 day old chicken menstruation, but quickly spirals out of control by promising to spare consumers the humiliation of wasting money on eggs. A detailed tour of the tofu fridge and a lesson in tofu scramble would have to follow to make that true.

‘Cage free’ and ‘free range’ are up next since they’re household names (thanks to some groups we all know), and are closely followed by newer buzzwords like ‘pasture raised,’ ’hormone free’ and ‘antibiotic free.’ He debunks these sneaky terms by reminding us chickens still aren’t in the lush green fields of children’s book covers (unless you think 108 square ft is total luxury), aren’t given additional hormones (the effect of their natural estrogen on humans is enough to fuck us up), and then hopes that supporting famers who don’t use antibiotics will even the scales a bit since those brave famers who avoid drugs are just trying to spare human health, right? Still, his big tip is not to waste a buck on the antibiotic free stuff.

We go back to grade school momentarily to decipher that brown eggs don’t mean chocolate eggs, what a fertile egg is, and if bigger really is better. Hey, you can’t have a piece about the breeding, manipulation, torture, slaughter, and use of an animal without a little humour, right? Then we’re right back to the thick of it with a tale of GMO in the feed as being somehow less horrific then our imagination that GMOs pumped directly into a chicken, the hilarity of preferring our animal protein wasn’t fed animal protein (re: vegetarian chickens), and the recommendation that you go elsewhere if you’re looking for Omega-3 (cough cough flaxseed).

Oh, but it all wraps up so neatly by berating people’s choices to buy any of the aforementioned eggs in plastic or styrofoam containers. Yes, apparently both ‘may negate any of the purchased absolution.’ It seems in standard fashion, the health of humanity and the protection of the environment is removed entirely from the health and environmental destruction the animal agriculture industry has. We can only sleep soundly if we pick the less harmful eggs, and if we have remembered to recycle and take shorter showers to cover the residual guilt. Look, more diversion from the real issue – continuing to purchase eggs at all. We already know the picture of a farm on egg containers is just as misleading about the chicken utopia as it is about the environmental one. How would Hamblin feel to learn that hens in non-cage houses are less efficient and leave a larger footprint? Farmers don’t do what they do for chickens, for the planet, or for their customers; they do it for profit. 

In attempting to show that some of these words can “reflect meaningful improvements in the way chicken eggs are harvested,” Hamblin aligns himself with team kill all chickens. Rather than considering the horrific realities of what humans do to start their days sunny-side up, this examination ignores that there is no right way to do the wrong thing. If we pretend to care about the amount of room a chicken has to move, or the number of hours a chicken gets to spend outdoors, we should go vegan. If we pretend to care about eating excess hormones and antibiotics, we should go vegan. And if we care about the ways in which the products we buy hurt our planet, we should go vegan. But above all, if we recognize that animals are not property, we owe it them to go vegan.

And for the vegans agreeing with me, our work is to avoid the social reforms in action and single issue campaigns that support this confusion by advocating for better treatment of exploited animals. We have to recognize that ‘free range’ campaigns (and the many chicken campaigns like it) is as frivolous as the ‘humane meat’ one. It’s clear that knowing chickens are harmed is not enough, because Hamblin and his readers are already there. We need to advocate for nothing less than total justice for all animals, or we face losing to the silver tongues of marketing execs and liberal journalists. Don’t be caught with egg on your face by supporting this corrupt industry any longer.

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