Animal welfare is usually regarded as a noble concept and a milestone of human civilization. Those living in the insulated reality of the Western world may sincerely believe this. However, my experience as a Bulgarian, i.e. resident of one of the poorest countries in Europe, points otherwise. Animal welfare is a bizarre idea with disastrous consequences, especially for poor people. It is destroying decades of progress concerning human rights and well-being.
Now, as Europeans are preparing for Easter, some are angry at the scarcity and high prices of eggs as a result of the European Union's Welfare of Laying Hens Directive. Egg prices are particularly sky-rocketing in Bulgaria. As a result, "hens get happier while people get unhappier" (in the words of a Bulgarian egg producer quoted by EUBusiness).
To make it clear why, I shall refer to the post Happy Hens and Stupid Minister by well-known Bulgarian blogger Longanlon. The title of the post refers to the Bulgarian agriculture minister Miroslav Naydenov, and it bashes EU bureaucrats and their Bulgarian overzealous followers for elevating hen's happiness to top priority and making consumers and farmers unhappy by forcing on them high egg prices and expensive farming methods, respectively. The post is good, but it is part of the discussion that is a must-read, and I am going to translate it for you.
A commenter asks, "People spend much on junk food, why not pay more for high-quality eggs? If hens are bred in a better way, the nutritive value and the taste of eggs will be different... Why shouldn't eggs be more expensive and of higher quality?"
The blog host replies, "Because for some people priority is not "the high-quality food" but just "the food"... For the poor, eggs used to be the only cheap food of animal origin. I talked to the shop assistant at the corner shop where most customers are modest-income. She said that, after the price of eggs climbed, only I am buying them. She showed me the empty places in egg packages, she had sold only 6 eggs for a week."
(In Bulgaria, when prices go up, shopkeepers begin to sell single items of goods indended to be sold in packages, such as eggs, baby diapers, drug tablets etc. - hence the empty places in the package.)
So you see that the directive banning sale of eggs laid by "unhappy hens" causes harm far beyond interference with a beloved traditional spring festival. It will force many thousands of Bulgarians to restrict their egg consumption, which has been their main source of animal protein. Possibly the champions of animal happiness in the rich countries of "Old Europe" are blissfully unaware that tens of thousands of EU citizens still suffer from protein malnutrition. Someone must inform them of that fact. And if they know it and still think that the welfare of laying hens is more important than welfare (and health) of human beings... - then I fear the problem is very deep and it will not be easy to find a solution to it. At any rate, for the near future humans will continue to be deprived of food in the name of the tentative happiness of laying hens.