I only live by a few rules in life. Never trust a man in white pants. Never drink a blue drink. And never buy cage eggs.

To be honest, the first two seldom come up - although when they do, it's usually together, and you don't need me to tell you why you should avoid men in white pants bearing blue drinks (laundry concerns not being the least of it).

However the issue of cage eggs presents itself almost weekly, when I do my supermarket shop. There the boxes sit, barely distinguishable from the free range and barn laid varieties around them, and always a few bucks cheaper. 

I'm not a brand loyalist and never remember which type I bought the last time, so I always have to scour the packs to determine which eggs are verboten. 

I'm so focused on looking for the words “cage” and “battery” I tend to miss everything else on the label, which is why I accidentally bought a pack of 10 eggs the other day instead of the usual dozen. Yes, they make them in packs of 10 now, for the same price – how cheeky is that? That's a whole other rant for another time.

The point is I avoid cage eggs because it's been drummed into me over the years that they are cruel, something that was highlighted this week by shocking photos and footage of battery hens released to News.com.au by activist group Animals Australia.

Allegedly shot inside one of the suppliers to Australia's largest egg producer Pace Farm, the video shows chickens being kept in appalling conditions, surrounded by massive piles of faeces and trapped beneath rows of overcrowded cages.

Many have feathers missing; one can be seen wandering among piles of poo, dazed, with just bare quills hanging off its wings like some sort of zombie bird. It's truly horrifying stuff.

Pace Farm's lawyers have questioned the validity of the footage, claiming activists had “opened cages and allowed birds to escape, with a view to obtaining their preferred (hopefully shocking) footage”.

Oh, so that half-dead looking bird with bones for wings wandering around in poo was supposed to be in a cage? That's alright then. Carry on.

It sounds ridiculous but carry on they probably can, because the cages shown in this shocking video may well actually comply with Australian regulations.

According to industry body Australian Egg Corporation Limited, hens of under 2.4kg kept in a cage of three or more should have 550 square cm of space each – roughly 23 cm by 23 cm. Imagine a chicken standing on a sheet of A4 paper – that's the amount of space we're talking about.

These same regulations note that such cage systems make it impossible for hens to fully stretch or flap their wings, and that they can make managing disease more difficult. But, hey ho. They mean a cheaper breakfast for all of us, right? Don't worry about it.

Cage eggs are far and away the most popular choice with Australian consumers, with two thirds of our eggs produced on battery farms. 

Given that, all things being equal, no reasonable human being would choose to keep an animal locked in a tiny cage for its entire life, the only possible explanation I can come up with for this is price. 

I did some quick calculations at my local supermarket and determined the average price of a dozen free range eggs was $6. For caged eggs it was $4.70.

I know times are tough and people are struggling to make ends meet, but I challenge you to look at an A4 sheet of paper and feel at peace with saving your $1.30.


First published in The Advertiser, August 23, 2014.