Starving Hens For Profit
Has Got to Stop
by Karen Davis, Ph.D. and Nedim Buyukmihci, V.M.D.
Recently a woman described the shock she experienced while
touring an egg factory in Pennsylvania. When the lights were
switched on in one of the blacked-out houses, the voices of the
hens inside "rose to a cacophony, accompanied by the sound of
thousands of beaks pecking on metal. The hens stuck their heads
in and out of the cages, pecking at the feed trays, which were
empty." The manager explained that this was the first day of a
seven-day "fast." The hens were upset because they expected to be
fed; by the end of seven days they would be quieter. After losing
up to 30 percent of their bodyweight, denuded of feathers,
starved, and deranged by fear, they would be stupefied or dead.
If the average person decided to withhold food from their
dog or cat for days or weeks, that person would probably be
charged with cruelty to animals and the news media would take the
story and run with it. Yet, each year the egg industry
intentionally deprives millions of hens of food for up to ten
days. But the cameras aren't rolling on the hens' behalf and no
one is going to jail. This speaks volumes about the way our
society views animals used for food. These animals are
unprotected against the cruelest practices. Only consider that 98
percent of hens used in egg production in the United States are
painfully debeaked and crammed into cages so small they can't
assume a single normal body posture.
The practice of starving hens for profit is known as forced-molting.
Molting literally refers to the replacement of old
feathers by new ones. In nature, birds replace all their feathers
in the course of a year to maintain good plumage at all times. A
natural molt often happens at the onset of winter, when nature
discourages the hatching of chicks. The hen stops laying eggs and
concentrates her energies on staying warm and growing new
The egg industry exploits this natural process by forcing an
entire flock to molt simultaneously. This is done to manipulate
the marketplace and to pump a few hundred more eggs out of
exhausted hens when it is deemed cheaper to "recycle" them rather
than immediately slaughter them after a year of relentless egg-
laying on a calcium-deficient diet.
To trigger the physiological shock of the forced molt, a
University of California poultry researcher (Donald Bell)
recommends the removal of all food for no less than five days and
as long as fourteen days. Survivors may be force-molted two or
three times, based on economics. At any given time over 6 million
hens in the U.S. are being systematically starved in their cages,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Peter Dun,
an animal scientist from Scotland, said hens are force molted in
the United States "until their combs turn blue."
Forced molting should be banned in this country as was done
in Great Britain in 1987. In addition to being cruel and immoral,
it causes disease. Forced molting is a major cause of Salmonella
poisoning. According to a 1992 report in Poultry Science, forced
molting in combination with a Salmonella infection created an
actual disease state in the alimentary tract of tested hens.
Prolonged food deprivation wrecks the hens' immune system, making
them prey to the poisonous bacteria that infest the packed
confinement buildings in which they lay their eggs.
Currently, there is not a single federal law in the United
States to protect poultry from the most outrageous forms of
abuse. For this reason, two nonprofit animal advocacy
organizations, United Poultry Concerns and the Association of
Veterinarians for Animal Rights, have developed a petition urging
the egg industry to take immediate steps to eliminate the cruel
practice of forced molting. To date, the industry relies on the
notion that Americans couldn't care less how a farm animal is
treated. Public pressure is crucial. Readers wishing to receive
more information, including a copy of the petition to stop the
forced molting of laying hens, are encouraged to write to United
Poultry Concerns, PO Box 150, Machipongo, VA 23405-0150 (www.upc-online.org); and the
Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, PO Box 208,
Davis, CA 95617 (www.avar.org).
Copyright UPC & AVAR. Individuals, organizations, & news media have full permission to copy,
reprint & distribute this article and are encouraged to do so.