THE shocking video released last week by Mercy for Animals, a Chicago-based animal rights group, should be enough to stir the conscience of the nation's egg consumers and shame some of its biggest food retailers.
Depicted in the undercover videotape is the brutal treatment of unwanted male chicks - ground up alive at the Spencer, Iowa, hatchery of Hy-Line North America, the nation's leading egg producer. We took note of the inhumane practice, which a trade group called common in the industry, in an editorial Monday. But much more needs to be said.
In a diverse food industry where organic, humane production now competes with assembly-line, factory-based methods, consumers are getting real choices in which kinds of food to buy. But the only way to offer more choice is to give people information.
A customer at Whole Foods, the leading natural and organic foods supermarket, has no way of knowing that the eggs may have come from a producer that grinds up male chicks rejected because they can't lay eggs or grow large or quickly enough to be raised profitably for meat. Customers at Wal-Mart, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe's, and other chains suffer from the same lack of information.
The only way for the industry to assure customers that animals have not been brutalized is to put labels on cartons attesting that only humane production methods, as set by an independent board, have been used by the processor. If the industry is incapable of providing such information, then it should become a federal mandate.
Hy-Line's response to the disturbing video was that hatchery procedures may look cruel, but are "supported and approved by the animal veterinary and scientific community." In a world full of hired guns and paid experts, it's hard to imagine a true animal professional or sane person of science endorsing such brutal treatment.
If a producer believes that it handles animals humanely, it should be willing to submit its practices for review and its products for labeling for all of its customers to see. And if the industry doesn't, consumers should demand it.