Trappists can't swallow Eggs Benedict

Citing comments by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, criticising industrial methods of keeping chickens, the animal rights group PETA has called on a Trappist community to shut down its "cruel" egg production facility.

In a press release, the Norfolk, Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the group's undercover investigation of Mepkin Abbey's egg production facility "revealed shocking cruelty to chickens", the National Catholic Reporter says.

Describing the abbey's facility as "hell on earth" for chickens, PETA wrote: "Tens of thousands of hens at the monastery are painfully debeaked, crammed into tiny cages, and periodically starved."

But responding to a letter from PETA Vice President, Bruce Friedrich, Mepkin's abbot, Fr Stanislaus Gumula, denied any inhumane treatment of the chickens, and saying he sees no way to enter into a dialogue with Friedrich.

Friedrich's letter said the debeaking method, common to the vast majority of the nation's egg producers, is painful and "enormously stressful" to the birds.

Friedrich also said that Mepkin's practice of placing up to four hens in cages that "are roughly 12 inches by 18 inches" is unnatural to the animals. "This means that the animals never breathe fresh air, feel the sun on their backs, build nests, raise their young, or do anything else that God designed them to do," he wrote.

Friedrich quoted then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as telling a German reporter that "animals, too, are God's creatures".

"Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible," Cardinal Ratzinger said.

In his letter, copied to Trappist Abbot Generals Dom Bernardo Olivera and Dom Mauro Esteva, Friedrich wrote, "Your cruel treatment of these poor animals, by the tens of thousands, would warrant felony cruelty-to-animals charges if dogs or cats were the victims. But chickens are intelligent animals who suffer and feel pain, just like dogs and cats do."

He asked that the abby "please shut down this operation forever" once the current population of hens dies.

"It is an ugly stain on your otherwise blessed community. Instead of raising funds for your abbey by abusing animals, please consider solely making foodstuffs that don't involve animals".

Gumula said the abbey about 30 years ago gave up on its "free-range" practice, which allowed the hens to move about on the floor, saying the hens are "in much better conditions now".

Under the free-range system, the hens "were susceptible to rodents, to snakes and all kinds of disease and bacteria", Gumula said. "The situation they are in now is not that way."

Consumers "are getting a much cleaner, wholesome product than what we were able to do when we had floor chickens," Gumula said.

Photo source: Mepkin Abbey

Trappist monks' egg factory under fire as cruel to chickens (National Catholic Reporter, 22/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Mepkin Abbey | Fr Stan Gumula
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Poultry factory farming
Chicken Industry
Eggs Benedict (Wikipedia)

23 Feb 2007