Eggs possess intrinsic value that is considered to benefit the planet; eggs are part of the natural ecosystem services that powers all life on the earth. Without egg production, a snowball effect will prompt species extinction, hampering income, and other destructive outcomes. Thus, the importance of eggs in todays world is revealed through a sense of balance among the ecosystem cycles of the planet. In actuality, the production process of a chicken, to an egg, to a mouth yields unsustainable impacts that contribute to the destruction of the triple bottom line.
The process of moving a laying hens egg from the coop to a frying pan influences destructive practices ranging from the profit-oriented American who practices industrialized farming techniques to the pollution of our planets non-abundant water supply. Every input of egg production affects the final nutritious, commercial good. But, is this process nutritious for the earth? Animal welfare, societal values, the environment, economics, human health, as well as food safety and quality are many of the elements incorporated in a sustainable production system (Mench, Summer, and Rosen-Molina 1).
Egg production has a large-sized ecological footprint compared to the small size of an egg. This ecological impact begins at production and peels back layers of unsustainable inputs and outputs as the sequential process advances. The causal relationship of egg production and unsustainable inputs and outputs allows an in-depth look at the root cause of this footprint. In order to initiate a sustainable movement toward an efficient, effective, and healthy egg, we must start at the origin of an egg. Innovative efficiency lies within the real chicken, who must execute forward-thinking actions for a sustainable future.
The United States is the second largest egg producer in the world (Mante 298). The egg industry in the United States has evolved from small, family farms into huge, factory farms with the goal of fast, high profit and low input costs. These factory farms play a major role in current unsustainable lifestyles due to their intensive agricultural methods. In the United States, the majority of poultry farmers use a method called cage systems. In this system, the laying hens are confined and crammed into injury-prone wire cages leading to an explosion of overcrowding, mortality rates, cannibalism, pollution, and disease (Xin, H. et al. ).
Farms cram laying hens into the wire cages in order to achieve the industrialized goal of low production costs and high profit. The farmer ignores a chickens natural, evolutionary diet and creates a forced diet to operate as a catalyst for production rate. In order to achieve faster, larger, and cheaper results the feed is pumped full of chemicals, antibiotics, as well as millions of tons of meat and bone meal from post-slaughter animal waste are recycled back into animal feed each year, (Feed, Factory Farms Cheap Feed).
Not only does this processed diet affect the health of the chicken, but also consumers health. A direct result of additives in the feed is disease-prone hens. Therefore, the diseases acquired from antibiotic resistance combined with the ailments from overcrowding, cannibalism, and injury, are passed from the laying hen to their egg offspring and their wastes. For example, a commonly used chemical in poultry feed is Arsenic. Arsenic is used to promote growth and prevent disease.
However, if consumed by chickens, this poisonous compound lands in their meat, their feces and eventually in water supplies. This additive is related to various health problems such as warts, sore throat, cancer, and even death by poisoning (Animal Welfare, Confined Animals). Chicken waste is a large contributor to the pollution of the planet. The majority of the United States poultry farms utilize the advantageous chicken manure in measures that harmonize with the accumulation of the industrialize mindset of low cost and high profit.
Intensive farms outlook on the waste is based on economics instead of effective and efficient use of the natural resource. Most of the chicken waste is sold to other farmers as untreated fertilizer, (Watch That Birds Rear) for a profit and after the sale, regulation of the waste ceases to exist and many violations of environmental laws occur. Chicken manure is a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer for land growth when used well. However, if it is over-applied the toxic levels of nitrogen and phosphorous will spoil water quality via run-off and leaks (Mante 298).
The water is then consumed by other inhabitants of the world, which leads to harmful societal impacts such as disease and death. There is also a limited and decreasing supply safe water on the planet, thus, toxic run-off rapidly increases the amount of foul water while simultaneously increasing the earths water debt. Another profit-making disposal method is selling the waste to animal feed and chicken litter, or bedding, producers. This production logic is convincing through an economic mind-tunnel, but the real dangers of waste consumption outweigh the positive economic impacts.
The unsustainable use of poultry litter lies within the current disposal methods such as land application and feeding to cattle are now under pressure because of pollution of water resources due to leaching, runoffs and concern for mad cow disease contamination of the food chain, (Mante 298). For instance, if cattle consumes chicken waste in feed for source of protein it plays a major factor in the development of mad cow disease, which not only annihilates the wastes organic value, but also the entire, living cow. Poultry farms conventional egg production methods do not resourcefully employ chicken waste.
Although this waste is viewed as a hazardous waste poisoning the planet, society, and economy, chicken manure is de facto valuable and nourishing for the land when correctly recycled into the soil. Chicken waste is made up of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Alone, the waste is too potent to fertilize the land, but with effort by putting the waste through a composting process, it can be one of the most resourceful and sustainable fertilizers to date (Duncan). Since extra time, resources, and effort are involved to create the value of chicken waste, most large, industrial farms do not participate in these sustainable practices.
Not only does this waste of a crude resource amplify the destruction of our planet, it also wastes the nourishing approaches farms could develop to conserve the planet, boost the economy, and sustain the society. Conventional cage eggs are produced from hens in a communal crowded cage system (Facts About the Egg Production Process). Hundreds of hens are crammed into environmentally controlled wire cages. The conventional cage system is a widespread egg production method, but not the only one. Alternate egg production systems include barn, free range, and organic.
There is a vast amount of debate over which type of housing system is the most effective and sustainable approach. In order to achieve sustainable egg production, consideration of the sources welfare, living standards, and behavioral development must take place. Barn housing systems house free-roaming hens limited to the barns walls. Barn systems increase hens health, physical activity, and natural behavior solely due to the free movement in the barns boundaries. Even with these advantages, there are still many unsustainable impacts resulting from barn systems.
Some of these disadvantages include increased injury, feather pecking, cannibalism, and low air quality from higher levels of toxins. Free-range systems allow unrestricted movement inside housing walls, similar to barn systems, but the birds also have daily access to the outdoors. Consequently, laying hens in free-range egg production systems develop healthier lifestyles as a direct effect of the access to the natural outdoor habitat as well as availability of fresh food and water. However, the steady contact to the outdoors can also lead to negative performance.
Health risks, air-borne disease, predators, and resistance to explore unfamiliar areas are drawbacks associated with free-range housing systems (Welfare Implications of Laying Hen Housing 1-3). Organic eggs are produced in a cage-free setting in accordance with the national USDA standards. The organic egg production process bans hens intake of chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones, and all unnatural elements used to increase speed, production, profit, and so on (Facts About the Egg Production Process). The different methods of egg production have varying impacts on people, planet, and prosperity.
Production of animal feed is the leading factor in greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for 92% of the poultry industrys ecological footprint. Surprisingly, organic or free-range eggs may not be the most successful, sustainable production process. Both systems have a larger carbon footprint than any alternative production system. The comfort of natural inputs and fair animal treatment in an organic and free-range egg production process creates the misleading marketing tactic that this method is the most effective approach to achieve a sustainable planet.
When in reality, organic and free-range layer hens consume more feed and produce fewer eggs than any other production system (Gasperoni 1). These methods require higher costs for greater resource inputs while concurrently reducing outputs. Hence, organic and free-range processes yield eggs with an equal nutritional value impact on humans as any other production process, but an unsustainable economic and environmental impact. After the eggs are laid, the production process takes a turn from the evolutionary production of eggs to the commercial manufacturing of eggs.
The first step in preparing the eggs for distribution to commercial retailers by packaging eggs into cartons. The United States, being the second largest egg producer, purchases an average of four billion egg cartons yearly almost reaching a grossing $500 million (Egg Cartons, Our Link with the Consumer). Egg cartons are critical in order to protect eggs from damage during shipping and handling, preventing cracks in the shell, keeping the eggs clean, and providing nutritional information for individual cartons. There are two common types of egg cartons: the polystyrene foam container and the pulp molded fiber carton.
Polystyrene foam containers have been the leading material egg cartons used since the 1940s. Polystyrene foam packages have many beneficial characteristics for the egg industry and their customers. Some benefits of these egg cartons include their ability to hold a substantial amount of weight, protective cushioning for the fragile eggs, made in various identification colors, as well as proficient insulation to prevent eggs cracking and spoiling from external heat.
The pulp molded fiber cartons are not as popular as polystyrene foam containers, but still used by a number of egg manufacturers in the U. S. Fiber cartons are composed of recycled material as well as biodegradable, and are therefore deemed environmentally friendly by consumers. However, these cartons have a few downsides as well. The protective capacity of the molded fiber relies on the recycled material that formulates the carton. An additional downside of pulp molded fiber cartons is the visual, decorative inability, which generates limitations of product identification. The consumers widely held perception that the pulp molded fiber cartons are superior related to sustainability is an illusory opinion.
In reality, the sustainable benefits of polystyrene foam cartons are overlooked. Compared to fiber cartons, polystyrene foam cartons require less material inputs, half the amount energy to manufacture, and make up less than 1% of waste contents (Egg Cartons, Our Link with the Consumer). This majority of consumers conclusively have an incorrect understanding of the authentic value and depth measured regarding sustainable practices. The transportation methods in the egg production industry are a major contributor to the negative impacts of the societal, economic, and environmental segments of the pillar of sustainability.
In order to assess the effected portions of the pillar, food miles are looked to as an indicator to understand inefficiency of food supply chain. The term Food Miles refers to the distance food travels from farm to plate, (Rajkumar 40). Food miles have a direct impact on transportation cost, which is proportional to the cost of the good, effecting the prosperity and economy of our planet. This increases an eggs footprint because the greater the distance it travels, the less fresh it becomes, yet the more a customer pays for it due to the transportation costs.
There are also environmental costs associated with food miles. The further distance the egg travels, the greater consumption of energy through the transportation mean leading to greater emissions of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases (Pirog 1, 5). This ultimately impacts the environment through air pollution and depletion of the ozone layer thus effecting society as well. Other social impacts of long distance travel include different areas food safety standards, contamination, and disease.
Since food miles are a direct gauge in measuring sustainability, the less distance and egg travels means the more sustainable the egg is for the society, environment, and economy. Reducing food miles is reducing emissions. Shorter distance travels: reduces usage of fossil fuels and thus, conservation. Minimum food travel: minimum pollution, environmental degradation and Global warming, (Rajkumar 41). The egg production process creates many obstacles we need to overcome in order to achieve a sustainable lifestyle and preserve our people, planet, and prosperity.
An eggs production process of housing systems, humane animal treatment, laying hens, waste collection, chicken feed, litter management, packaging, transporting, and finally consumption leave a visible footprint contributing to the devastating impacts of the environment, economy, and society. To produce a more sustainable egg, you have to start with what came first”the chicken. In order to initiate this conservation lifestyle filled with awareness, you also must first start with the chicken. To save this world from anymore harm, we as the earths inhabitants must stop being chickens, and start leading sustainable actions.