Eggs – is it natural and ethical to eat them?

Is eating eggs natural and ethical? We’re looking at all the types of foods that humans eat, to work out whether or not it’s natural (are we designed to eat them) and, because we are conscious of right and wrong, whether it’s ethical.

Eggs are used in so many different meals and recipes, it’s hard to imagine not eating them. Scrambled, boiled, fried, poached, omelette, eggs Benedict, eggs Florentine, frittata, tortilla, eggs in pancakes, crumpets, cakes, sauces, desserts, puddings, fritters, quiche, kedgeree, fried rice, pasta, mayonnaise, custard, eggnog, icecream, meringue, meatloaf, scones, croissants, bread and rolls.

Eggs must be one of the most versatile foods as well as being high in protein. So, is eating eggs a good thing?


Is it natural?

Can we (human primates, equipped only with our bodies and natural items such as rocks, sticks, soil, fire, etc) gather, prepare and eat eggs? In the wild, eggs are found in bird’s nests. So, providing the human primate can climb up to nests in trees, or on cliffs, or find carefully-hidden nests on the ground, this is easy to do.

Eggs can be eaten raw, though in this primitive scenario, they could be cooked on a hot clean rock, or inside an orange skin (as the Boy Scouts do) or left in the ashes of a fire to harden.

Also, many animals, including monkeys, chimpanzees and baboons, eat eggs. Some birds eat eggs. Snakes and lizards, foxes, dogs, wolves, mice and rats, hedgehogs, squirrels, mink and stoats all eat eggs, if they can get them. An interesting observation is that the largest and most powerful primate, the gorilla, does not eat meat or eggs.

The conclusion is that eating eggs is natural.

Is it ethical?

a) Has it suffered the least harm?

Providing the mother bird has not started sitting on the eggs to incubate them or, if she has been sitting for fewer than two days, the chick embryo heart has not started beating. One could assume, then, that the embryo would not feel pain, and technically, there is no life to lose. But, from day three of incubation, the heart starts beating.

Here is a beautiful illustration by Caitlin Johnston, that shows the embryonic cycle:

Hen's egg life cycle

Hen’s egg life cycle by Caitlin Johnston

Another consideration is, of course, the potential impact on the bird species. Should nests be robbed at an unsustainable rate, this would be unethical. Most often, birds lay only two to three eggs at a time, most often only once a year. This is to counteract the natural losses that can be expected in the nest. So, providing the human primate’s gathering of eggs equals what would normally happen in the wild, this should not upset the balance.

Obviously, if eggs aren’t fertilized, the above issues don’t count, and the eggs would not be conscious of pain or loss of life. But, this is unlikely to happen in the wild, although it is standard in the modern world. About 30 million unfertilized eggs are eaten daily in the UK, alone.

However, the bigger issue here is the welfare of the laying hens. There has been a lot of fuss over caged hens vs free range hens, due to the utter cruelty that laying hens suffer during their brief span of productive life – brief only due to the intensely unnatural conditions and the burden of production laid on them.

Here is a video showing how these creatures suffer to produce eggs for humans:

Edit: 5/10/14

And, here is an even more disturbing side of what these creatures suffer in commercial enterprises, in order that the world is supplied with eggs. Warning: disturbing

b) Has it had the best life possible?

Only if the bird has been living a completely natural life would you be able to say yes to this. Although it’s eggs we are talking about here, the source of the food is our concern and, as can be seen in the above video, billions of hens suffer to produce eggs for humans.

c) Is this food good for us?

Eggs are full of protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and trace elements which are there to furnish the embryo with all it needs to grow in the record time of only three weeks. There is controversy about cholesterol, which is something you need to decide for yourself. However, on the whole, eggs seem to be good food.

Final verdict – my opinion:

Eggs are natural, healthy food for humans.

Eggs can also squeeze past our ethical issues should they be sourced from the wild before incubation, or sourced from ethical domestic operations where they are unfertilized and the birds living a life that could be compared favourably to a wild and natural life.

They are unethical if they are sourced from caged hen operations, or some so-called barn-egg farms or even some organic egg farms. One would have to either keep one’s own hens in as wild a condition as possible, or visit the site to be sure of its ethical standards, or gather eggs in the wild in a sustainable and ethical way, to avoid violating the ethical issues mentioned in this post.

So, eggs are borderline.

What do you think?

Next post: honey


10 thoughts on “Eggs – is it natural and ethical to eat them?

  1. I keep hens. I have 8 sweet chickens on two acres of land. They have free run of almost all of the entire two acres day and night. They have a coop where they are locked in at night to keep them free from foxes and such. The coop has a large run where, in the morning before I wake up they can scratch and get sun. Once we wake up, we open the coop to let the girls out. They follow us around the yard like puppies. They eat (sometimes to my dismay) from the veggie garden. We have trees and open space. When they stop laying (as two of my older girls have) they just go on being hens minus the eggs. We area currently getting eight eggs a day from our current flock. We have three 2 year old hens and 5 spring chickens. We have no roosters so there is no chance of fertilization. We also rescue hens who have been harmed by those who abuse them only for their eggs. Our girls have names and they get pets and hugs from us and our six year old. I have no ethical concerns with eating their eggs. They are raised very well. We frequently give them treats (they LOVE blueberries!) and we care for them. In big storms, we have an extra large dog crate that we use to bring them inside the house (hurricanes, snowstorms, etc). I figure if we didn’t have them, someone else would probably keep them less humanely or buy the spring chicks and get rid of them when they grow up. Everyone loves a fuzzy baby chick but when they start getting feathered (about a month or two after Easter, EVERY SINGLE YEAR) people are looking for ways to get rid of them. I think our girls’ eggs fit your natural and ethical standards. :o)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful story. Your hens sound like really happy creatures and it’s been so heart-warming reading about how you care for them and love them. Definitely natural and ethical eggs. Thanks again. 🙂


    • Your hens’ lives sound like my hens lives! My girls have 10 acres, a rooster and a Great Pyrenees guarding them all. My chickens live a full life- with plenty of treats and plenty to do to keep them occupied and happy all day. I can’t imagine having hens that AREN’T treated with love and respect.


      • Hello Liz. Your hens sound as if they’re living in paradise. The Pyrenees are wonderful guard dogs and such wonderful personalities. It’s so heart-warming to see how many people really do love their hens and give them the best lives possible.


  2. As a child born with a cleft palate and hair lip and therefore unable to suck, I was spoon fed beaten eggs. Therefore my early growth is indebted to eggs.
    As a teenager I worked on a farm that had two large battery sheds. It was my job to feed the caged hens and – with my pal – muck them out at the weekend, a dirty, stinking job. As well as dung being fed into the buckets the occasional dead chicken popped out also. The poor creatures were devoid of feathers having had them pecked off by other equally naked chickens in the crammed, bare 18 x 18 inch cage. Their scrawny bodies were also covered in gaping wounds. The contrast between the condition of the chickens in the batteries and the chickens in the free range sheds was self evident.
    The latter were less noisy, more content, friendlier and infinitely more comfortable upon a soft carpet of peat and access to straw lined boxes that they were free to go in and out of. There were also free range hens outside that were left to wonder about the farmstead even as far as the riverbank. These laid their eggs in hay lofts and barns and slept in wooden coops at night and during the day if they desired. I used to love picking one up and gently pressing my cheek against its comb for that tickly feeling 🙂
    Battery chickens (not hens) are unethical yet I understand the reason why they exist e.g. increased population increases demand. However because the chickens are intensely fed to produce maximum output the quality of the eggs are inferior compared to free range. The distinction between chickens and hens is that the former are bred to lay eggs round the clock while the latter are bred to roam about the steading, live homely lives and lay quality eggs for those who can afford the increased cost of their lifestyle compared to their battery sisters. Therein lies the rub…what people can afford. Battery eggs are much cheaper but as I said inferior. I’t not just the individual customer that buys battery produced eggs but food producers too that are in the business of also producing a good turnover each year. I guess the upshot is that ethics is an expensive luxury in a market driven economy like ours…not to mention backward cultures that treat animals eve worse, but that’s another article.


    • David – yes, I can appreciate how you feel having had to rely on eating eggs to live. But, there are very few people in that situation, and it would be simple enough to supply those who need eggs, from free-range organic farms. There is no need for humans to eat eggs from hens that have been kept in cages. Many people in the world could be in a position to keep their own hens, and grow some of their own food, if they were so inclined (and if councils would allow it). Ethics is an expensive luxury now, but that is only because it’s cheaper for growers to produce eggs from caged hens, than otherwise. This does not mean though that the consumer is able to buy at a proportional price. You can see this by comparing the price of organic eggs to caged eggs. Hardly any difference. So, that money is going somewhere that is not benefiting the population as a whole nor the unfortunate animals. I would say that if those who feel they must eat eggs, would choose free-range organic, this would encourage more free-range producers, thereby keeping the price affordable and reducing the cost of being an ethical consumer.


  3. Good article. I applaud your concern for the ethical treatment of animals. Down to being concerned for when the heart starts beating. In the future, societies will look back on our world and wonder how we can be this concerned about an unborn chicken and yet terminate millions of unborn children for convenience sake through abortions. Now there is an ethical question!


    • Hello Jeff. Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, I have to agree that we will look back in wonder at the wholesale murder in which humans are complicit, not for the sake of survival, but for convenience and comfort. One wonders what it will take for humans to choose ethical options.


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