"Last week, fire ravaged a warehouse at a Marseilles, Ohio, egg farm. Power was cut off to two of the farms' 16 chicken barns, and 250,000 chickens either died or had to be euthanized because of the loss of environmental control.
Losing that number of chickens had to be a blow to the farm's owner, Ohio Fresh Eggs. But it wasn't as big a loss as you might think initially, because 2 million laying hens in 14 other barns survived the fire unhurt.
That's 2.25 million chickens — on one farm. In the typical egg-farming operation, warehoused hens spend their entire short lives in cages barely larger than their bodies.
Their living conditions are controlled to maximize egg-laying potential. When the production of individual hens falters, usually within 12 months, they are slaughtered.
The benefit for us is cheap eggs at the local grocery. Factory-farm-produced eggs cost considerably less than free range or organic eggs. The benefit for the chicken is, well, there isn't any. They are, some people will say, only animals, they're not very cute, and it's not as if people who buy the eggs have to see how the chickens live.
But Ohio voters said last November that they do care, when they supported the formation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, whose job will be to write standards for the treatment of livestock animals.
And that's why, as the 13-member panel is named and gets organized in the coming weeks, it should look at the extreme warehousing prevalent in the egg business and ask: Can we truly afford the price of eggs?"