Monday, February 16, 2009

A 45º-turn on battery farming

freedom to protestRecently, the Cambridge News ran a story about students from Cambridge's Anglia Ruskin University picketing a Tesco's store to try to persuade it to stop selling eggs from caged hens, a subject which becomes close to my daughters' hearts every time it gets an airing; they then bring it close to my ears. (Maybe the protesters took advantage of the student union's free bus to Tesco...)

I'm sorry that animals are living in squalour and misery to feed us for less. But, in our broken society where kids live with drug-taking parents in a narrative so bleak it would have rendered Dickens suicidal, parents look at the financial news and weep, and older folk live emptily in the carpeted gulags of some nursing-homes, the fates of our feathered friends are not that high on my agenda.

Nevertheless, I'm not made of stone, so as I had to be in town today, Ia section of Cambridge's Mill Road had a walk down Mill Road, the cosmopolitan thoroughfare that the anti-Tesco campaigners are always going on about, and which is on Anglia Ruskin University's doorstep. My mission: to find out whether the small, independent traders whom the above state they defend are on-message as regards caged hens. My report follows:

If you want compassion for chickens, then Al Amin at number 100 was the clear winner, as it sold only eggs from free-range hens. On the other hand, Winfield Chinese Supermarket at no. 58 sold only caged chickens' eggs; I don't know the status of the quails and ducks whose produce was also available. (I only recently found out that there was such a thing as battery ducks, when Minora told me.)

Balv's Superette at no. 160 sold eggs from both caged and free-range hens, as did the Nip-In Express at no. 30. Conversely, there was no identification visible on the eggs for sale in unmarked boxes in Notun Bangla Bazar at no. 194, or in Spice-Gate International Food Centre at no. 14.

One store I dropped into was sold out of eggs, and in another where I couldn't find them a harrassed-looking lady behind the counter was trying to convince a young man that four cans of 9% lager was quite enough for him - he was rather a big chap.

I'm not quite sure why the campaigners have chosen Tesco's, which gives shoppers a choice between free-range and caged chickens and their eggs. It could be that they are yet to devise coping-mechanisms for the misery of other beings that is woven into many of our daily choices; possibly they ascribe to the view that most of us are economic automata; or maybe they just don't like Tesco's. Probably all three, and more, are intermixed.

Also to be factored in is celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's campaign against Tesco's intensive-rearing techniques. However, this man has form: in January 2008 he was unmasked by an industry watchdog as having "allowed needless cruelty" at the battery-farm he set up to show viewers the horror of it all. Apparently it wasn't horrible enough already.

I don't doubt the sincerity of the protesters at Tesco's, I merely doubt their appreciation of situations where the pennies matter. If they really want to make a difference, they could lobby the Government to make it more rewarding for farmers to breed free-range chickens than it is at present, without increasing their impact on ordinary folks' pockets. Who knows, they might even be inspired to give the many Halal meat outlets in Cambridge some friendly advice on animal welfare.

But if they still think that campaigning for eggs to come from free-range chickens is the answer, then maybe as well as picketing Tesco's they might have a look at some of the establishments I've listed above that sell eggs from caged hens.

you choose: click to go to the homepage of Compassion in World Farming


  1. I buy free-range eggs from a local feed store because they taste better. They cost a lot more, though. I think folks who need to buy cheap food ought to be able to do so. I agree that it ought to be more rewarding for farmers to raise free-range animals, and organic crops. But that would be supporting small business - which government doesn't seem to want to do.

    Another problem is definitions. There are free range chicken farms in which the chickens run loose, but are crowded hundreds (thousands?) of them together to the point it's unsanitary. They are still called free-range, though.

    It amazes me how many people seem to really, truly believe that human beings can fix every problem in the world. We need to do what we can, but caring for others of our own species seems a lot nobler than worrying about all the other species in the world. We shouldn't be indifferent, but one has to prioritize.

  2. I agree totally! If it's right to support the big banks, why is it not right to support the small farmers? They only feed us!

    I'm sad that some chickens are suffering, some dogs beaten and some mules overloaded; but if we believe that there is something marking humans out as special, then perhaps taking care of people will help us then be better stewards of creation.

    I think you're right that free-range eggs do taste that little bit better, although I didn't know about overcrowding on free-range farms.

    Doing my researches on all things eggy, I bought some salted duck eggs in a Chinese store. I like salty eggs, but this was beyond anything I've ever tasted! Can you think of any uses for them, in cooking, etc?

  3. Wow. Salted duck eggs? I have a Chinese cookbook by Ken Hom, but there is no mention that such a thing exists.

    My 13-year-old suggests using them as bath salts. (I wouldn't recommend it.)

  4. My older daughter is into all sort of wierd and wonderful bathsalts...I suspect she'll give it a try!

  5. I want chickens! I can't have them here in this neighborhood, although I have two acres. sigh. I have already chosen my hen house... waiting for the day......

  6. A lot of people hereabouts are just so tired of the problem of definitions, as Pam said, that they're keeping chickens themselves. I think it's cheaper, but I'm not definitely sure of that.

    Why can't you keep chickens if you have two acres?

  7. We're allowed to have chickens - on a 5000 square foot lot! But I think the black dog would kill them. Sigh. I want chickens too. Maybe someday....

    No, eggs from your own chickens are not cheaper than cheap eggs, but they are probably cheaper than good eggs - adding some table scraps makes for better eggs than just feeding meal.

  8. I'm not sure in what sense you mean the Black Dog - canis lupus familiaris or Winston Churchill's...? How are you feeling?

    The pub just down the road used to have an aviary, a pretty big one, and one of the birds was a rooster. He was a good alarm clock, especially on the days when you didn't want an alarm clock.

  9. No, sorry - I have two dogs, a smooth (shorthaired) collie and a mixed breed (probably border collie/spaniel/lab?) that races from one end of the yard to the other, all day long, chasing the squirrels in the tops of the trees. (She's caught and killed four of them.) Me, I'm as fine as I get, short of miraculous healing.

    Our neighbors have roosters but they're far enough away we can't hear them without the windows open. (Glad your unwelcome alarm clock departed!)

  10. I'm glad the alarm clock departed as well. Glad also because there were some birds from warmer climes there; the aviary had a waterproof roof by mesh walls, and so was open to the Engish winter - which sometimes goes on for most of the year!

    I like collie crosses - my Mum and I used to keep them, they're great dogs with lovely temperaments, usually. When i got married my Mum got one that sounds a bit like yours - with the addition that when a particular programme came on the local radio that played classical music, he used to lift his head and howl at the top of his voice!

    I'm glad to hear you're not too bad.


Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.