At odds with the country’s tradition of small, independent, rural farms, the majority of Mexico’s commercial eggs, meat, and dairy products now come from large intensive confinement facilities. These operations, known as animal factories (or factory farms), fail to provide for many of the animals’ most basic needs and cause immense suffering. In response, Humane Society International has launched a campaign to improve the lives of animals raised for food in Mexico. The welfare of egg-laying hens on animal factories is one focus of HSI’s work.
Egg consumption, production up
Aggressive marketing campaigns, government policies, and other factors have caused egg consumption in Mexico to soar. Mexico’s national poultry association boasts that Mexicans eat more eggs per capita than any other country in the world—an astounding 49.4 pounds of eggs per person annually.
Mexico is now the sixth largest egg-producing country in the world with more than 132 million egg-laying hens producing 2.3 million tons of eggs each year.
All commercial egg production in Mexico takes place in battery cage systems (source: European Commission Report). These operations cruelly confine tens of thousands of birds into massive “sheds”—windowless buildings often the length of a football fields. Inside, birds are crammed into row upon row of tiny, barren, wire cages that are stacked several tiers high, practically to the ceiling.
On average, each caged laying hen is afforded a meager 67 to 71 square inches of space—less than a single sheet of letter-sized paper—upon which to live her entire life. Unable to spread their wings or engage in many important, natural behaviors like nesting, dustbathing, perching and foraging, the birds suffer enormously [PDF].
Sacrificing animal welfare for profit
In order to increase production, animal factories routinely employ inhumane procedures that harm the birds’ health and cause tremendous suffering. “Debeaking” is one such procedure. To prevent laying hens in these crowded, stressful conditions from pecking themselves or their cage-mates, workers at animal factories cut or burn off portions of the birds’ beaks. This painful operation is done without any anesthesia and can cause a lifetime of discomfort.
“Forced molting” is another example. When egg production naturally begins to decline, hens at animal factories are deprived of food and light for extended periods of time in order to “shock” their systems into laying more eggs. Without food and light, the hens temporarily stop laying. Once food and light are restored, they start producing eggs at a faster rate, despite their severely compromised welfare and immune systems.
Human health risk
The crowding, stress, unhygienic conditions, inhumane procedures, lack of sunlight, and breeding practices typical of intensive confinement poultry production systems have been shown to facilitate the emergence and spread of diseases, including avian influenza (bird flu).
Taking action to reduce the suffering
Barren battery cages are so inhumane that the European Union (EU) voted to phase them out by 2012. In the interim, growing public opposition to battery-cage confinement has encouraged an increasing number of supermarkets, restaurants, and other outlets in the EU and the United States to adopt exclusively cage-free purchasing policies. HSI is asking Mexican companies to do the same, as well as to adopt other policies to improve the welfare of animals used for food.