Let’s talk about eggs.

When I was in Chicago I had a conversation about eggs. The question posed was simple: are eggs really so bad? It’s a legitimate question and one that I thought deserved more than a glib answer. So here it is.

tl/dr version: Yes

Longer version (not that long):

The reason that most people give for eating eggs, besides liking the taste, is that they’re a “good source of protein”. I won’t belabor the protein point at length as I have done so previously, but suffice to say that humans can thrive at much lower protein levels than advertised. Research has definitively shown that 5-10% of calories from protein is the optimal range and this can be amply provided by a diet of plants. Consumption of protein above that level increases a number of health risks including (but not limited to) heart disease, type II diabetes, cancer and kidney disease. The USDA caloric needs estimator suggests about 2400 calories per day for sedentary adult males (and face it, most people are sedentary). To put that in perspective, 10% of calories from protein means consumption of 240 calories of protein. At about 4 calories per gram, that’s 60 grams of protein per day. One large egg has about 6 grams of protein, or about 10% of your daily need, but no fiber (sadly lacking in almost everyone’s diet), 5 grams of fat and 167 mg of cholesterol. Since the optimal diet is also 10% of calories as fat, your daily fat requirement is only 27 grams, so a single egg provides 20% of your daily fat needs. There is no dietary need for cholesterol (your liver makes all that you need) and most studies of those at risk for heart disease and diabetes recommend 200 mg or less of cholesterol a day. If you eat a single egg, you’re more or less done.

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has a nice fact sheet on eggs, which can be seen here. It nicely summarizes all of the health risks of egg consumption, including an increased risk of colon & rectal cancer, bladder cancer, diabetes, heart disease, gestational diabetes (for the pregnant women), and the ever present risk of salmonella.

So, when you get past the health issues involved in eating eggs and decide that they maybe really are not that great for you, you have to factor in egg production, which is, in a word, horrifying. Obviously, chickens lay eggs. Some are taken for human consumption, the others grow and hatch chickens. Female chickens are obviously favored by the egg industry for because they make more eggs. As with most animals, about half of the chicken eggs that are hatched are female and half male. So what does the industry do with all the male chicks? The industry term is “chick culling“. Soon after hatching, they chicks are “sexed” (i.e. the sex is determined) and the male chicks are “culled” from the flock and killed, usually by dropping the living chicks into a large grinder. This is a link to a YouTube video showing the process. It’s not a bloody video, don’t worry, but it is pretty gross. As the Wikipedia page suggests, in India alone approximately 180,000,000 male chicks are culled per year. In the United States, approximately 40,000,000,000 (yes, that 40 billion) male chicks are culled each year. The egg industry recently announced that it will end the process of culling by 2020 in favor a technique for sexing the eggs before they hatch, but that still leaves 40 billion male eggs that need “disposal”.

Once the lucky females make it past the culling stage, their beaks are clipped short with a hot wire so they can’t do what chickens do, which is often peck each other to death (pecking order!) and packed into small cages where they’ll spend the rest of their relatively short life (1-2 years) laying eggs until they’re spent, then killed off.

And what happens to all those killed chickens, both the culled males and the non-productive females? Why they enrich our fertilizer and pet foods.