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Why We Should Boycott the Egg Industry for Good This Easter

24/03/2016 16:01 GMT | Updated 25/03/2017 09:12 GMT

The great irony of Easter, a time of new life, is that we celebrate it with death; our culinary traditions at odds with spring's blooming plants and wildlife, lambs being born and chicks hatched.

The season is synonymous with eggs. Chocolate ones now, but there was a time when hen's eggs symbolised rebirth at Easter - a representation that could not be any further from the reality of the present-day egg industry.

The attitude towards eggs in the UK is generally well-intentioned. Most people are now reasonably aware of the cruelty with battery cage farming. More than half of all UK egg-buyers now opt for 'free range', an increase of about 25% over the last decade. It gives them perceived comfort that the hens had a decent enough life.

Except they don't, regardless of the farming system used. That's the problem. Despite the carton's sunny outdoor depiction, a free range tag does not come even remotely close to resembling a happy or humane life. It means precious little; a smokescreen to boost sales to the morally conscious.

Female hens lead an existence of pain and suffering throughout their shortened lives. Free range might mean cage-free, but EU legislation allows you to keep as many as nine birds in one square metre of floor space.

Provided the bird-to-floor ratio is met, the laws do not stop chickens being stacked tier upon tier. They must be given some kind of outside access, but in such confined, packed-out spaces only few birds are ever able to actually make it outside.

Nor did the laws prevent the RSPCA two weeks ago finding nothing wrong with one free range farm cramming 16,000 birds into one shed in squalid conditions in which very few ever saw daylight. The notion of free range as perceived by the public is a fallacy.

Standard free range practice is also to cut off a large portion of each hen's beak with a hot blade without the use of painkillers so that hens in close confinement don't peck each other.

This remains legal even though a hen's beak is very sensitive akin to a human's fingertips and research suggests that beak trimming leads to both acute and chronic pain with symptoms similar to those of human amputees who suffer from phantom limb pain.

All commercial hens are sent to slaughter after about a year of egg production despite having a natural life span of seven years. They mostly end up in processed meats, typically pet food.

Dr Will Tuttle, in his acclaimed bestselling book, The World Peace Diet, said there was "no worse hell in this universe than being a female chicken on an industrial egg farm." Those privy to the practices and conditions don't disagree. Neither do I.

And what happens to male chicks? Whether free range or factory farmed, they are of no use to the egg industry and are killed almost immediately after hatching. They are either thrown into an industrial grinder known as a macerator while still alive - a practice banned in Germany last year - or gassed to death, the preferred method in the UK. Up to 40 million male chicks are slaughtered in the UK every year.

Hens are very nurturing, motherly animals with an instinctive desire to protect their eggs and offspring. It's where we get the everyday expression 'mother hen' from, yet we deprive them of this very role. Hens do not want us to take their eggs.

Nutritionally we don't need to eat them either. There are no nutrients in eggs we can't find in any other plant-based foods, and they are high in saturated fat and cholesterol - one of the main causes of heart disease.

Eggs are also fast becoming redundant in baking. You can make cakes, brownies and pancakes just as effectively without them or with a good egg replacer. It is only routine and long-standing practice that keeps eggs in recipes.

Society has normalised eating eggs. Very rarely do people question what they really are - hen's periods. Unfertilised menstruation. Not for me, thanks.

So many of us care about chickens enough to buy only free range eggs. Knowing now what all farmed hens are put through, however free range they are purported to be, why not go one step further this Easter and give up eggs for good? www.vegansociety.com/pledge