Just as we are trying to leave the pandemic behind, we are reminded of how easy it is for another to begin. An unprecedented outbreak of bird flu has forced the government to lock every single chicken inside.
With no chickens free to roam, Britain’s moral preference for free-range eggs is undermined.
But this story reveals the inconsistencies which riddle our relationship with the other animals – and how these inconsistencies are fuelling a threat to human health.
“People can no longer buy free-range eggs in the UK due to the length of time hens have been kept indoors following outbreaks of bird flu,” according to the BBC. “The country is experiencing its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza and measures are in place to prevent the virus from spreading.”
Most consumers in Britain now buy free-range eggs. Indeed, we reject those bottom shelf packs that bear the fatal admission “from caged hens” 70 percent of the time.
This is marvellous. But when it comes to cakes, desserts and mayonnaise, our preference for free-range gets lost in the mix. Companies slip the worst welfare eggs into pre-made foods and we don’t respond.
Our free-range principle really falls off a cliff when it comes to chickens themselves. Just 3.5 percent of chicken bought in the UK is free range – making chicken one of the very worst products for animal welfare.
We are 15 times less likely to buy free range chicken meat than free range chicken eggs. We care about chickens’ welfare in one case, and we forget about it in another. Why?
We humans can be very selective in our empathy. We seem to discriminate between animals all the time. We treat dogs well, but pigs poorly.
We empathise with cats in ways we rarely do with cows. We care about of the welfare of laying hens but not of other hens. These differences in treatment are at root morally arbitrary.
It isn’t just us consumers who are inconsistent. Strange policymaking might also explain why some chickens get a particularly raw deal. Policymakers have decreed that eggs must be labelled clearly.
How has the chicken been housed, and treated? The consumer should know before buying. Apparently, there is no need to tell us when it comes to chicken.
Companies are allowed to tell us only about the flavour of the chicken, the sauce, the texture, leaving mention of cages firmly out of the picture.
The failure of policy goes even deeper. The UK Government has now deployed the law decisively to lock down every chicken in the land.
But at the very same time it is approving new mega farms in the UK. Rather than shutting down these mega farms which are at the root of the threat to our health, it is nurturing the underlying problem, and then treating the symptoms.
Pandemics normally begin when a human comes into contact with a diseased animal. Factory farming supplies all the ingredients of this recipe.