The egg industry, that is, farmers that manage egg-laying hens that number in the 1000s or 10,000s (some 100,000s) in a central place must cut off some of a hen's beak. The hen uses it as a weapon. Dominant hens naturally peck submissive hens. Attacks get vicious when hens are gathered into groups larger than around 90 ... which is (on the large size of) hen flocks in the wild.
"Cage-free" and "Free-roaming" hens, since they are not restrained, are even more apt to injure and kill with their beaks. (Certified Humane website: "Cannibalism is more common in non-cage than cage systems.")
If you can keep flock size down, you can let them have their beaks. But you aren't going to make much money from 90 hens.
The "organic," "cage-free," "free-range" industry, realizing consumers wish to purchase humanely-raised products, has come up with a euphemism for debeaking, called "beak trimming" or "beak clipping." They claim this is not painful for the hen ("comparable to clipping nails"), and does not interfere with their lives. (Of course it has to interfere enough to prevent the hen from effectively preening or pecking. No pecking, or the farmer loses his chicken capital.)
I can't feel what a hen feels. I've read that hens, contrary to what some "Certified Humane" egg manufacturers claim, do experience pain during cutting (searing), and chronic pain after cutting, pain that lasts a lifetime. The industry says if you cut the beak on day 10 or before, long-term pain will not occur. I don't believe a hen's beak is that time-sensitive.
The egg industry, along with the humane-certification industry (from where I snatched this quotation) claims that "the pain and suffering of the hens that are being pecked to death is appalling," so it is more "humane" to painfully mangle the bird's natural bill than it is to allow birds to be pecked to death.
What is unnatural is housing thousands of birds in a "cage-free" space so overcrowded they can't spread their wings. Most have never experienced daylight.
Here's a short slide show put together by HumaneMyth.org that offers a little more transparency.
Suzanne, if Trader Joe's claims their eggs come from farms that don't allow beak cutting, then they have discovered a way to house large numbers of birds without those birds using their lethal beak-weapons on each other, something egg farmers everywhere would trip over themselves to acquire. Trader Joe's and its suppliers would probably make more money patenting that process than selling eggs. (Ask them what they do with the non-egg-laying male chicks.)
Where Do You Get Your Eggs?
When Humanely Raised Is Not Humane
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