Gotta know what goes into that delicious bath tub for your French fries.
The process to make most mayonnaise begins with the chicken (not the egg) in labs where teams of highly trained geneticists design hens best suited for laying eggs.
Most American egg-laying hens are hatched in hatcheries, not on farms. The largest hatchery is Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa, which provides female chicks to egg operations in more than 120 countries and has “its own in-house molecular genetics team leading the industry in application of DNA-based technology,” according to its website. At hatcheries like Hy-Line, the eggs will remain in incubator machines for about twenty-one days before hatching the chicks that will eventually lay the eggs that become mayonnaise.
Once they have hatched, male chicks are separated from the females and fed through a high-speed grinder.
Because male chicks cannot lay eggs and do not become the chickens we eat, they serve no purpose in modern agriculture. They are therefore killed by a process called maceration. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “death by maceration in day-old poultry occurs immediately with minimal pain and distress.” Approximately 21 — 22 million male chicks are macerated each month in the United States, according to the latest United States Department of Agriculture data.
Animal welfare group Farm Forward is currently petitioning Hellman's and Best Foods to find a way to stop maceration, specifically by using technology to sex the eggs before they hatch. Unilever, which owns Hellman's and Best Foods, did not respond to BuzzFeed's inquiries specifically about maceration.
Members of the egg industry would be on board with this technology, they say, if it worked. “We’d really like a technique that would allow us to [sex eggs before they hatch],” said Dr. Neil O'Sullivan of Hy-Line. At the moment, though, “the technology hasn’t been developed to be reliable and work properly.”
“It’s one of those practices that the egg industry in the entire world is challenged with, and one we’re trying to address and work on,” Chad Gregory, CEO of United Egg Producers told BuzzFeed.
Young female chicks have their beaks trimmed before being moved into small cages.
“Beak trimming,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture, “is a routine husbandry procedure practiced in the poultry industry to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism.”
More than 90% of the country's 296 million egg-laying hens live in cages for most of their lives, which range from 80-110 weeks long. United Egg Producers guidelines state that cage floors must be at least 67 square inches per bird, about 8 by 8 inches, a few inches smaller than a standard piece of paper. In these cages, hens are unable to engage in natural behaviors nesting, dustbathing, foraging, flying, wing-flapping, or walking, which the USDA says, “results in stress, which leads to the expression of harmful behaviors.”
As of January 1, 2012, these cages are banned in Europe.
Feather pecking and cannibalism, “can lead to suffering and death” but can be mitigated with beak trimming. Most trimming is done on growing farms, where the chicks grow into egg-laying hens. It is usually performed with a hot blade beak trimming machine before the chicks reach ten days old. This method “is likely to be acutely painful” and cause “pain… of a relatively short duration,” according to a 2011 article published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
However, Gregory says that beak trimming is a “scientifically humane proven method, similar to trimming one's finger nails.”
A new method using an infrared light is now being used by approximately thirty percent of U.S. egg producers, according to Dr. O'Sullivan, including in Hy-Line's hatcheries. When this infrared treatment is used, “no nerves have infiltrated to the beak tip yet,” and therefore this is viewed as a “more humane procedure,” O'Sullivan said.
About 80 million eggs, or about 1% of the 8 billion produced annually in the U.S., are used to make commercial mayonnaise.
While the majority of eggs produced in the U.S. will be washed, weighed, graded and packed into egg cartons, a third of them will be further processed into products like “liquid eggs,” says Serena Schaffner of the American Egg Board. Mayonnaise is made from liquid eggs.
“For liquid eggs, shell eggs go into machines that break eggs and, if necessary, separate the whites and yolks,” Schaffner says. Any eggs sold without their shell must also be pasteurized, or heated, to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
“Most mayonnaise manufacturers,” says Schaffner, “use frozen salted egg yolk for their formulations.” The gelatinous quality of the frozen yolk along with the salt give it the desired viscosity for use in sauces and dressings.