If I went back to 1995 and told people about google maps, no one would believe it was possible.
“They will have this thing called street view. You can walk around the streets in any major city around the world, as if you are there in person. You can even walk into the shops”
Yeah right! How would that be possible? That would take forever! But here we are and now its just one of those things we take for granted. So we have google maps already – is it too far fetched to create something similar for farms? Google Farms with hen view? Google already has all the technology and distribution it needs to make this possible.
But why bother? Let me explain.
How you buy eggs from the supermarket – the current situation
When you buy eggs from the supermarket, there is usually a huge amount of choice. And a large choice can be confusing at the best of times. The trouble with eggs is they all look the same from the outside. They come in slightly different sizes and colours, but there is no way to tell the quality of the eggs in their shell. You can’t smell them. You can’t see how fresh they are or what colour the yolk is until you get home and crack one open. On top of that, the supermarket is very disconnected from the farms where the eggs come from. This means there are no prompts which make you think about how the chickens were raised and how healthy they are. Instead, we have to rely on the egg cartons for information:
- Brand name and image: The branding and images are often very misleading. Usually a picture perfect image of chickens foraging in a field of grass, with a nice little barn in the background.
- Farming approach: Caged, free range, organic, barn laid. What does all this really mean? In most countries the term free range doesn’t have any standards or is defined very loosely. This means that we’re being mislead with eggs labelled as “free range” when they are not even close to what people expect free range to mean.
- Stocking density: Some egg cartons will now tell you the stocking density. For example 10,000 hens per hectare. Why are we talking about hens per hectare – thats a very abstract way of putting it. What about labelling how much space there is per hen so its easy to understand. E.g 1 square meter or square foot per hen?
Based on the current situation, here is the choice we face in the supermarket.
- Brand name and image: Lodge farms – Farm fresh cage eggs
- Farming approach: Cage
- Stocking density: Does not say.
- Other information: States on the label that “Our hens live in a safe and stable environment with constant access to fresh water and food.”
The name “Lodge Farms” makes you think of a small scale family run farm in an old lodge (with a wooden fireplace!). There are no pictures of hens frolicking on grass, but I notice the background is an image of hessian material which implies “natural.” They are certainly promoting a natural image and a company that cares about chickens. “They are caged but they are well looked after” is the message we are being sold. Well thats reassuring?
- Brand name and image: Lodge Farms – free range eggs
- Farming approach: Free Range
- Stocking density: Minimum 1m squared when outdoors. What about when they are indoors? How easy is it for the hens to even get outdoors?
- Other information: The label says “Out hens are free to stretch, socialise and move around on open ground when outdoors.” Again what about when they are inside? Sounds a bit misleading to me!
The picture on the egg carton makes you think the chickens have heaps of space to roam around on luscious green grass. The old farm house in the background promotes the story that these eggs come from a family run farm. Because of this, consumers are often happy to pay a premium price. But the picture we’re being sold of the family free range farm is far from reality.
So how does this influence our behaviour?
Out of sight out of mind
Many people don’t think to much about the eggs they buy. Cages don’t sound that bad and there are standards right? If you have a tight budget its easy to choose the cheaper option. If people saw how crammed, filthy and sick the chickens look that are laying those eggs – there is no way they would buy them.
Mislead and ripped off
More and more people are becoming aware of the realities of factory farmed eggs. Because of this, people try to make better decisions and have turned towards “free range” eggs. The problem is, these “free range” eggs are no where near what people expect.
Large factory farms have been quick to pick up on the trend away from their caged eggs – towards free-range eggs. Rather than offer what customers are demanding, factory farms have simply used it as a way to make more profit. They have pried open the doors to some of their massive industrial scale chicken sheds and let in a little bit of light and fresh air. But they didn’t go all the way and let them outside. So they label these ‘barn-laid eggs’, and charge a premium price. In other cases they stock up to 10,000 chickens per hectare(1 meter per chicken), and label them ‘free range’ and charge an even heftier premium. This is compared to guidelines that say free range should be limited to 1,500 birds per hectare.
So even when people try to make better choices, they are often being mislead and are not getting what they expect or paid for.
Where does google come into this?
What if we had google farm view and suddenly we could see everything we ever wanted to know about the eggs we buy. Using google “hen view” we could walk (virtually) inside the chicken sheds to see the conditions they’re raised in, how they look and how healthy they are. With google farm view, the decision would change dramatically:
I can’t image anyone would choose to buy option 1 (Aldi Lodge Farms) at any price. If you walked into the supermarket, scanned a barcode on your phone and were faced with the reality right in front of your face, it would be a pretty scary sight. It might have to come with a warning for kids, because some of the chickens and the conditions they live in look like a scene from a horror movie. All of a sudden there would be no where to hide. Labels like “free range” and “barn laid” would become irrelevant.
They can call the eggs whatever they like, no one would buy them!
So thats my ideal version of the future, but what can you do right now?
Everyone who has a backyard should consider backyard chickens. If there were as many pet chickens, as there are dogs and cats, factory farms would go out of business. Chickens are way easier and cheaper to keep as pets and as a bonus they provide nutritious eggs. And you can’t get more local or fresh than an egg laid in your own backyard.
Get to know your local farmers
If Backyard Chickens are not for you, make an effort to get to know your local farmers that support ethical and sustainable egg farming. This isn’t always easy, but a good place to start is your local farmers markets. Look for farmers who can show you pictures of their farm and are happy to show visitors around.
Petition local governments
Get vocal with your local government. Tell them what you expect and why. Some issues to focus on:
- Legalise backyard chickens: In some places backyard chickens aren’t legal. Don’t put up with this – if you can have a dog, there is no reason why you can’t have chickens.
- Transparent packaging of eggs: We shouldn’t put up with misleading packaging and a lack of information about the food we eat.
- Animal Cruelty: There is no excuse and no need to inflict suffering on the animals we eat. Putting an end to caged chickens is a good place to start. Think a single voice doesn’t count? A 13 year old school girl in the UK collected over 200,000 signatures, convincing Tesco (one of the major supermarket chains) to commit to a ban on cage-free eggs (see the story here).
Let me know by leaving a comment below.