Animal Rights

McDonald's 'Cage Free' Edict Gets Activists Clucking

Market decisions do more than new laws

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Not long ago, one of our prize chickens had just hatched some chicks and was strolling around the yard with the little ones in tow. Out of nowhere, a hawk descended from the sky and grabbed a chick, as momma hen squawked hysterically. In a few moments, we went from a scene from Norman Rockwell to one with Norman Bates.

The life of most animals, with our housecats possibly excepted, is "nasty, brutish and short," to quote 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes (who was talking about mankind). My perspective on animal issues has changed considerably after moving to a few acres in the country and watching my kids raise their animals. It's often not a pretty sight.

Last month, my wife came into the house bawling after coyotes had torn apart one of our baby Nubian goats. I bought two Great Pyrenees to protect the goats, which went well until the dogs broke into the hen house. Don't even ask. We named our newest turkey Darwin because he was the only one of 22 to survive to adolescence.

Yet the harshness of the natural world doesn't alleviate our nature, as human beings, to ponder how we treat animals. Americans give generously to animal-welfare causes and often back legislation meant to reduce animal suffering. A notable example is Proposition 2, which was approved overwhelmingly by California voters in 2008 and went into effect last January.

The measure requires our state's farmers provide more "elbow" room for hens, veal calves and many pigs. There's little pork and veal production in California and meat chickens already are mostly cage free, so it mainly changes egg farms. A follow-up law applied the same standards to any eggs sold in California. The measure has survived legal challenges.

Several months after implementation, the price of eggs has soared. Part of that is the result of avian flu that killed millions of birds, but California egg prices are now far above the national average. Some studies predict a small price difference after the market settles down, but there's no question these laws imposed enormous costs on egg farmers, who had to revamp their operations.

The really big recent news is the fast-food chain McDonald's announced it will only buy eggs from cage-free farms by 2020. "It will be increasingly hard to ignore a buyer of 2 billion eggs, especially given that McDonald's joined a flock of companies that already made similar supply-line switches," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Government regulations are not cost free, and they often have unintended consequences. The marketplace usually does a better job sorting out difficult issues than government bean (or egg) counters, but animal suffering is a conundrum.

Many economists argue government's proper role is to correct instances of "market failure." That's when the marketplace doesn't act efficiently, such as in a monopoly situation. (The latter almost always is the result of some government favor or intervention, but that's a discussion for another day.)

A similar concept comes into play regarding animals, as the market fails to factor the cost of animal suffering when it's more cost-effective to cram them into tiny cages. That perception may explain why so many Californians voted for Proposition 2. They couldn't think of another way to keep these creatures from spending their short lives in such an unpleasant situation.

Then again, the decision by McDonald's, Burger King and other restaurants to adjust their purchasing shows how public attitudes can drive change. They can often do so more thoroughly than regulators. For instance, McDonald's wants cage-free eggs, whereas California's laws only require bigger cages. The new policy may be as good for business as it is for the hens.

By the way, it's mainly in wealthy countries, where most everyone is well fed, that people have enough time and money to worry about the plight of chickens.

Those who argue that animals have "rights" are off the mark in a world of goat-killing coyotes. But there's nothing wrong with making confined animals' lives less brutish. The latest news from McDonald's reminds those who care about these creatures that they might want to spend less time lobbying for new laws and more time thinking about such voluntary solutions.

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  1. I want an Egg McMuffin now.

    Is there a definition for “market failure” that isn’t “companies are doing something I don’t want them to do”?

    1. I can’t think of one, though I suppose it’s theoretically possible…..

    2. yes. look up the word: Progressive

    3. yes. look up the word: Progressive

    4. All day breakfast, my friend. All day.

    5. McDonald sucks donkey dick

  2. *government regulations implemented to promote social wellbeing inevitably result in a degree of market failure*

    Raised on the farm, as a chore each morning I had to go to the coop to collect eggs. Yet, first I had to cross the barnyard where the rooster resided. That SOB tore into me every day–until one morning he flocked with my grandmother & she rung his neck in one snap. Dinner was scrumptious. All I can say is it’s a fucking chicken.

  3. Those who argue that animals people have “rights” are off the mark in a world of goat-killing coyotes murderers and thieves.

    Come on. You can argue that animals don’t have rights, but “they don’t because they kill each other” is about the laziest and worst argument.

    1. I would have ever so much more sympathy with Animal Rights people if I saw any sign that they actually treated animals any better than anyone else, cared as much about third world PEOPLE as they claim to care about endangered species, or could cope with the appearence of outside-the-box ideas like rhinocerous farming.

      1. i love asking what percentage of their income do they give annually to third world people. Always get a blank stare.

      2. I have a friend who has a few chickens, and I feel pretty confident that she treats them better than a large egg laying operation would.

        The hawks and foxes, on the other hand…

      3. Like so many progs, they want to impose a burden on someone else, not themselves. Let the farmers pay for the extra cost of cage free chickens (or, if they are the rare prog with any bit of economic literacy, let the customers pay)! They’ve done all the caring they can, what with their Facebooks likes and Twitter hashtags!

    2. Coyotes kill goats because they eat the goats. If the goats have a right not to be killed by coyotes, then the coyotes don’t have a right to eat.

    3. It’s an informal reductio, and a good one. The idea that a bear is committing a violation of rights when it eats my dog (or me, for that matter) leads us down a particularly bizarre path where all of nature is defined by constant violations of rights. Leukocytes commit rights violations on a massive scale, and birds are constantly violating the rights of trees and worms, to say nothing of what cats do to mice. Only when dealing with interactions between moral, reasoning, classifying actors–persons–does talk of rights make any sense. A person can be cruel to a non-person, or a god could be cruel to a person, but it’s nonsensical to talk about either as a case of rights violation.

      I share sympathy with animal-rights people who encourage compassion for other creatures, but all their talk about animal rights does nothing but water down the traditional meaning of rights, which is rooted in the concept of natural law/natural order and the idea that human beings have a particular reasoning and moral nature that other animals do not share. Unless we radically redefine the meaning of rights (a project well underway at this point, what with the “right to education” and the “right to healthcare” being widely used euphemisms), “animal rights” is a category error.

      1. Barney! Well said! After all-no one gets out of here alive, anyway!

      2. which is rooted in the concept of natural law/natural order and the idea that human beings have a particular reasoning and moral nature that other animals do not share

        I’m not as confident in that concept as I once was. I have no doubt that humans are the most intelligent and capable of reason (by a wide margin) but I’ve become increasingly convinced that intelligence and even rudimentary reasoning exist on a continuum, making it difficult to draw a bright line saying “these animals (humans) have rights but these (all others) do not”. At the very least there are some apes that almost certainly approach and maybe even surpass the intelligence and reasoning ability of infants and very young children.

        Only when dealing with interactions between moral, reasoning, classifying actors–persons–does talk of rights make any sense

        I agree with that, but I don’t think it has to be reciprocal. A bear can’t be said to be violating the rights of your dog because the bear can’t formulate a concept of rights to begin with. There’s some element of “mens rea”, so to speak.

        But humans can formulate ideas of rights, which at least opens the possibility that we could violate the rights (whatever they may be) of animals, even though those animals can’t be said to be violating ours if they eat us.

        I dunno. It’s not an easy question to answer. I’m toying around with ideas.

        1. I agree that rights exist in the Great Fuzzy Zone, but all of moral philosophy exists there because it’s an emergent property of our particular species, which categorizes and “bits” reality at every turn. That tendency to categorize is why we would say that an infant–a creature of instinct–has rights, even if they’re just held in escrow by his or her guardians, whereas a dog wouldn’t. But it’s not a cut-and-dried issue, and in the next few generations, AI is likely to test our idea of personhood as tied to human biology.

          A bear can’t be said to be violating the rights of your dog because the bear can’t formulate a concept of rights to begin with. There’s some element of “mens rea”, so to speak.

          But humans can formulate ideas of rights, which at least opens the possibility that we could violate the rights (whatever they may be) of animals, even though those animals can’t be said to be violating ours if they eat us.

          We necessarily apply reciprocity to rights even between persons. If I steal your tv and you demand reasonable compensation and back that demand with force, we don’t denounce you for violating my rights or aggressing against me, as I’ve effectively waived my claim to my ownership rights when I elected to violate yours. If we encountered a bear (or a shark, or an ent) who engaged in something approximating reason and social reciprocity, it would make sense to include them in the talk or rights.

  4. “Then again, the decision by McDonald’s, Burger King and other restaurants to adjust their purchasing shows how public attitudes can drive change.”

    No matter how irrational or rooted in false premises those attitudes may be.

    The idea that man, to me anyway, came up with an ‘elbow room’ law for animals with points directly to our uber-arrogance and self-indulgence. Just like with the notion man can “fight” Mother Nature on climate change.

    God help us all.

    1. On the other hand, as an amature student of history, I have to say that I don’t really see the current completely irrational religious fads as being that mich more pervasive than the completely irrational religious fads of, say, the Victorian era.

      1. As an amateur auteur of history with a degree, I agree!

      2. +1 Burned-over District

      3. I disagree. The obvious crazies are few and extremely limited. Even the more established religions, churches and sects are poorer, in both numbers and influence, than before, and they have generally become far less narrow and doctrinaire. What has happened is that television and the internet have given the proselytizing minorities a bigger audience and more news coverage than ever, while social media and 24-hour news channels spread the word even further and faster. Just look at the Church of the Golden Trump.

  5. By the way, it’s mainly in wealthy countries, where most everyone is well fed, that people have enough time and money to worry about the plight of chickens.

    ^THIS

    So many progs believe the rest of the world is just like the comfy suburb they grew up in so why can’t they be just like us???

    1. I’ve had the same thought when friends go to Facebook, etc. to say advocate for non-GMO, organically grown, locally sourced, gluten free, free range kale or whatever, and that all food should be required to check off all those boxes.

      That’s great, you little yuppie, but until Bernie Sanders rides in on his unicorn and raises the minimum wage to $100/hour, some people want food they can actually afford.

      1. Stupidity is no excuse for that kind of evil.

      2. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

      3. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

        1. So true, it needs to be said twice!

    2. Actually that is not exactly true, throughout the history the poor have cared very much about the plights of there animals because they depended on them. The where rules in Mill Factory housing in the 19th century not to bring Pigs and livestock indoors, people did that to protect the animals when the elements became to harsh. The animals well being was tied up to in a sense to the survival of the whole family. This is not to say animal life for example during the middle ages was some great thing but it was much better than massive factory farms that animal welfare advocates advocate (I think rightly) against.

      1. Bullshit. If you don’t want large scale factory farms, then we need to radically change our diet or have a large die-off of humans. It’s like the moron locovores who think we can go back to the “good old days” when we didn’t have the division of labor.

        1. The calories put into the meat industry are far more than gotten out of it. There would be no large die off of humans if there was a switch in diet. I don’t think we can get a massive diet shift though, I think synthetic meats are what will truly stop the mass cruelty to animals.

  6. In other food news, CSPI is suing the FDA regarding sodium reduction:

    http://www.foodnavigator-usa.c…..aRg==&p2;=

  7. Greenhut says that egg prices have “soared” and links a local article that says this:
    “In the short run, egg prices could spike by as much as $1 a dozen, predicted David Cisneros, chief operating officer of Dakota Layers, the parent company of Santa Maria’s Rosemary Farms. Long term, Cisneros said he expects the Proposition 2 requirements to increase the cost of eggs by about only 20 cents a dozen”

    So the average of the low & high is .60 cents. Big fucking deal. If you can’t afford an extra .60 cents per week on your grocery bill, something is definitely wrong with your budgeting.

    I wouldn’t mind paying the extra knowing that the birds aren’t being tortured so I can save a buck.

    1. RealCrankyYankee|10.9.15 @ 1:12PM|#
      “I wouldn’t mind paying the extra knowing that the birds aren’t being tortured so I can save a buck.”

      Goody for you twit, now pay mine.

      1. Unfortunately, I hear this all the time where I live (The cesspool of lefties just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, near the cesspool just to the south of the Golden Gate).
        “It’s only $X dollars more!” Yeah, you sack of shits, but you say that about so many things so it adds up to quite a bit.
        The big shitstorm now is “affordable housing.” Yeah, leftie morons (and in Marin it IS lefties since that is 70%+ of Marin), when you make it so difficult to build anything, the cost goes up.

    2. If you can’t afford an extra .60 cents per week on your grocery bill, something is definitely wrong with your budgeting.

      So if the price of a gallon of milk goes up $1 overnight, you don’t think that’s going to eat into poor people’s budgets? Or is it that you just don’t mind lowering the overall standard of living of people, poor people moreso than the relatively well off?

      The idea that the chickens were “tortured” before and now aren’t is foolish. The marginal quality of life of a chicken in an egg farm will be slightly higher, but if this is your standard for clearing your conscience when you’re eating eggs, you need to set your sights higher. Chickens are violent, conscienceless creatures, and they die rough deaths when they’re not protected from the wild and one another, and often even when they are.

      If you want their eggs or meat, you need to wrap your head around that reality.

  8. Saying that the goats have “rights” is going to far but when you decide to capture and keep an animal, it’s your responsibility to keep it safe. If you let the coyotes each your goats, that on you.

  9. I don’t know why McDonald’s bothers.

    It’s not like the activists, who almost all come from the upper-middle class, are going to give them any credit for it. AFAICT, this ire directed at fast food has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with trying to separate themselves from the plebs.

    1. +1

      McDonald’s management is overly ambitious, or completely ignorant of their own image, I think. They’ll lose my business if they sacrifice their dominance in the ‘cheapest food you didn’t make yourself’ category fighting PR battles that they lost decades ago.

      As it stands, I see MD’s as a powerful contender in the inferior goods market. Every time I feel like I’ve been overspending, I find I become a Dollar Menunaire all over again. Attempting to transition into the normal goods market seems like a disastrously shortsighted management blunder.

  10. Our food production industry is a miracle taken for granted and a bit like the soylent green factory: most people are better off not looking inside. For example, in a world where millions of eggs are needed, roosters don’t lay eggs. Most egg producers don’t want fertile eggs. Imagine the lawsuits if little Billy was traumatized by an egg with a half formed chicken embryo. So, what happens to all the roosters that are born? Up the conveyor belt and into the grinder they go to make dog food or fertilizer.

    I keep 6 chickens in the back yard and haven’t bought an egg in some time. A point came where I said no more free loaders. Any new pets had to do something more than eat and crap and pee on my shoes. When I first started, I learned that *everything* likes to eat chicken and that a ferocious fanged predator lives inside even the most innocent looking of dogs. Those chickens flapping around in panic can be mighty hard to resist

    My chickens live longer, better lives than their commercial sisters. Still, I haven’t had any die of old age yet. And I’m too chicken to slaughter them for meat. I buy my chicken meat from the store, so I am hiring out that bit of unpleasantness. One day maybe I’ll be saddled with retired hens. I doubt it.

    Some day soon, I predict we will be eating chicken breasts and beef steaks grown in vats. Until then, it’s a sad fact that all of these billions of people need their chicken strips and whoppers. Best not to inquire about the details.

  11. By the way, it’s mainly in less socialistic countries where anyone worries abt the plight of chickens. Lapwings nest on our yard and at the Mormon temple next door. Today I saw a huge Cara-cara trolling the ‘hood for baby birds. Slingshots do not frighten hawks that much, and they ignore the looters and their laws.

    1. By the way, it’s mainly in less socialistic countries where anyone worries abt the plight of chickens.

      We’re the only ones who can afford to, and that’s a recent innovation. The only exception to that I know of is Buddhism/Hinduism, and even then concern for animal wellbeing is hardly universal.

      The old farmers from my neck of the woods–the sort people who didn’t have electricity until they were in high school and who typically buried one sibling before they were grown–don’t give a damn about the suffering of their chickens. It’s only when our standard of living is sufficiently high and when the marginal cost of preventing the suffering of other animals is low that it becomes easy for us to demand better treatment.

      If cage-free eggs cost $50/dozen, very few people would be clamoring for McDonald’s to use them for their breakfast sandwiches.

      1. “The old farmers from my neck of the woods–the sort people who didn’t have electricity until they were in high school and who typically buried one sibling before they were grown–don’t give a damn about the suffering of their chickens.”

        I find that highly unlikely, throughout history people have had to care for there animals for there survival, people would bring in animals into there homes when conditions where too harsh, no framer would keep his chickens in conditions similar to large scale factory farms, as they would be far too risky too his chickens, his livelihood.

        The factory farm industry has created concentration camps for animals you can’t compare them the family farm, animals through history have gotten much better treatment on the family farm, it might not be great treatment but its has NOT the utter brutality of some large scale factory farms.

  12. “But they’re just doing it because it’s what they think their customers want! It’s not like they have pure motives!”

    /progtard

    1. Kefka is going for the derp of the month award…..and it’s ahead of Tony.

  13. It is a myth that the hens are better off being uncaged. The move to caging the egglayers occurred in the 1960s because of the harm they were causing to eachother.

    Also, you are misguided to think that McDs is converting to cage free chickens because they have attained some sort of moral highground. Proposition 2 in the US is the reason. In fact, this was the GOAL of proposition 2. The California market is so huge, the animal rights people were hoping there would be a spill over effect into the other states. Their gamble paid off.

    But, as the CA population becomes more and more disproportionately poorer, with fewer buyers of what is being sold (caused by inflated minimum wages, over regulation and just plain stupidity), the sellers will finally fold up their tents and go home.

    When I see this sort of immorality occurring (such as Whole Foods collaborating directly with PETA) I wash my hands of their stock. And I walk away.

    How is this immoral? The lessons we learned from the same thing in Europe tells us the outcome of such draconian policies that seem at first so kind hearted. A study by the very same forces that pushed for the same change in their markets confirmed the OPPOSITE of what they wanted: The small egg farmers were being run out of business. They had thought the law would HELP the small farmer.

    The lesson is we must NEVER EVER go the way of California.

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