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Egg Eaters Horrified At The "Daily Grind" at Hatcheries

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It was an AOL first. Nestled between Gosselin estrangement and Michael Jackson burial news on its homepage was the headline Are Your Eggs Unethical?

"Hatchery Horrors," an undercover video showing male chicks ground up alive at an Iowa hatchery, went viral last week, scoring 1.5 million YouTube viewers, two AP stories and mentions on Fox news, MSNBC, National Public Radio and in Time magazine.

This was not like run-of-the-mill abuse videos where management blames a few Bad Apples and vows to investigate while insinuating the acts were staged or instigated, law enforcement sits on its hands, distributors plead ignorance, the public boycotts the brand for 4 hours and an assistant night shift supervisor gets a 3 month suspended sentence.

No, here the bad apple is the system of egg production itself which is predicated on the death at birth of half the chickens involved - the males.

Ever since two breeds of chickens began to be cultivated in the 1950's - one for eggs and one for meat - the meatless "egg" male is an unwanted byproduct to the industry.

Mitch Head, spokesman for the US trade group United Egg Producers, confirms the daily "grind" of newly hatched males which the video depicts to the Associated Press, saying, "If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need."

Of course consumers are used to health warnings about artificial sweeteners, peanuts, allergens and bits of fruit pit or nut choking hazards in their foods. Used to ignoring them.

But ethical informed consent is something new. If a food like veal or foie gras and now eggs is so cruel, many people reason, why does the government allow it? Why are consumers stuck making the choice whether or not to get blood on their hands? Why do they have to be the bad guys?

Don't-ask/don't-tell works just fine with fur from China marked Asian Wolf, Corsac fox and rabbit which people know is dog and cat but buy anyway because it's priced right.

Egg producers notably defend grinding up of newly hatched male chicks - called maceration - and other "euthanasia" on business rather than humane grounds. Few producers say the chicks, which are sentient, don't know what's happening or feel pain - one researcher found evidence the chicks were alive 20 seconds after grinding began - but rather, that the "gender cleansing" is just the cost of cheap eggs.

"If a small producer adds a buck to a dozen eggs and tells the buyer it's to cover the cost of putting old hens or extra roosters out to pasture, the consumer will not care/pay," wrote one poster on the Web about the hatchery controversy. "Trust me, I know."

Another poster agreed that consumers don't care. "They are not experts who make generous incomes by offering their 'opinions' but rather working people too busy trying to afford food for their kids."

But what kind of "food"? Not only are eggs known as strokes-in-a-shell, elevating stroke and cardiovascular risks with the cholesterol punch they pack-medical journal articles say eggs contribute to the escalating incidences of diabetes and ovarian cancer. Oops.

Nor are they hygienic. In July, President Obama, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced new testing and refrigeration standards to combat the salmonella contamination which plagues so many egg operations.

And while mass egg farm deaths have been reported - 160,000 laying hens burned to death at Green Valley Poultry Farm in Abingdon, VA in 2006 and 30,000 spent hens were fed into a wood chipper at Ward Egg Ranch in San Diego County, CA in 2003 in a case District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis would not prosecute - the daily grinding up of male chicks at hatcheries is standard operating procedure.

"The plant manager told me that the ground-up male chicks were used in dog food and fertilizer," writes the investigator with Chicago-based Mercy For Animals who shot the video, noting that "bloody slush" comes out of the bottom of the grinder.

Some animal lovers submit that eggs reflect the skewed thinking behind the economic bubble - buying things we don't need with money we don't have.

They are food we don't need - whose production is only possible because of compassion we won't feel.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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