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Behind the “Cage-Free” Label

Behind the “Cage-Free” Label

It’s no secret that the lives of battery hens are nothing short of miserable. Multiple hens are forced to live in cramped wire cages together, like the one in the photo, with no room to move or stretch for a year or two, or until their egg laying productivity declines, at which point they’re discarded as “spent” hens.

Now, so called “Cage-Free” labels for eggs are fairly common in most grocery stores, but what does that really even mean?

It’s certainly nice to be provided with the alternative visual of happy hens being allowed to roam free in the sun, building nests and taking dust baths, but the truth about cage-free can make that vision seem hopelessly optimistic, if not downright delusional. 

Organizations like Humane Myth and the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, want consumers to know that the lives of many cage-free hens are not really any better than those of battery hens.

Both battery and free-range hens come from hatcheries, where after chicks are sexed in both industries all the males are destroyed. Additionally they all undergo debeaking and force molting, where they’re starved for about two weeks to trick their bodies into starting another egg laying cycle.

One investigation by Jewel Johnson of a cage-free farm resulted in her discovery of what the lives of 10,000 cage free hens were really like. 

“The floor under my feet was cement, and the building was freezing cold with no heat in early April. I couldn’t see much for hens at all down the shed…it was just too dark. All I could see was black, all I could hear was crying of hens, all I could smell was ammonia – it was a cold, black cement hell,” she said. 

No. The cold, black cement hell description definitely doesn’t equate to the vision of happy hens in the sun. A second investigation of a Free Range Organic Egg farm wasn’t any better.

You can also check out “The Faces of Free-Range Farming” video from the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary.

Of course, the ultimate solution would be for consumers to give up eggs completely, which is why it’s especially great to see companies like Boca go egg-free, instead of cage-free, but will it ever work?

Or will the cage-free industry continue to profit from people who think they’re making a compassionate choice?



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6:53AM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

Fortunately there are a few places here where we can buy from family farms. But city dwellers are usually not able to do so.
It is great to see more grocers carrying organic or cruelty free products but they are more expensive so educating the public is the only way to change things.
People have to learn to re-prioritize their choices and still live within their budgets. That is a very hard process for most to do. It is the same for choosing cereal products for example - do they buy the large, economy size with genetically engineered garbage in it or an all natural organic cereal for their kids and themselves which costs twice as much or more?
Perhaps if they learn to live without all the fancy new phones, etc. they can do this.

12:56PM PDT on May 24, 2012

i am trying to get local eggs i thought cage free were better conditions for the hens The problem with local farmers is the eggs are quite expensive $3 dozen I'm on a limited budget I have cut down on my consumption Since i stopped eating meat i was relying on eggs for one of my protein sources Now i feel bad that i didn't help any

11:18PM PDT on May 23, 2012

Vegan is the only way to go. I became vegetarian while working in cancer epidemiology for National Cancer Institute (I resigned after meat companies put the squeeze on NCI) and became vegan over animal husbandry - and the drugs that go into eggs. If you had tem on the street you would goto jail, so why eat any chicken or dairy products.

5:19AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Don't forget about beef cattle, hogs and other food animals. The almighty dollar seems to come first except for small farmers with a conscience. Buy locally when possible!

4:45AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Support local farms , these tricky marketers adopt all the labels and stalling to avoid going free range ....If certified and real free range are not available - we don't eat eggs ...not a big deal as we'd rather pay more for fewer eggs !

10:21PM PST on Feb 27, 2012

I have chickens who are truly free-running, though they have a fenced enclosure or else the dogs would kill them. They also have a large house with perches and laying boxes. They can run around their house, dig holes (a favorite), fly (usually not over the fence) and go outside or in all day. AT night we close them in their house for safety. We sell the eggs we don't eat for $2.50 a dozen, and fed them certified organic feed, and fruit and bread scraps. The eggs are truly delicious. We let them sit on them if they want but none are very "broody." We didn't kill any chicks for being make, but fortunately got only one rooster out of 20, and he's really a very good "daddy" to all the girls--protective and kind. We will never kill them when they stop laying--they can just hang out.We pick them up and they are very friendly and fun to watch. They will find some worms and bugs this SPring and summer. We'll let them out in the moveable cage (no bottom, called a "chicken tractor") this spring. I don't agree that eating their eggs is cruel. I think we all need to "grow our own," whether veggies or chickens for eggs, or cows for milk, but we need to treat them like we would want to be treated.
NOTE: If you ever buy "vegetarian-fed" hens' eggs, this means they don't get to see the earth under their feet because then they would eat bugs and worms occasionally!

1:17PM PST on Feb 27, 2012

We buy eggs from a neighbor. We can view the hens as they go about their business right across the street. They live a very good life. We're going to be getting hens of our own but they will only be used for laying eggs as we do not eat chicken.

Companies need to be held accountable especially since they are charging a high price for "cage free eggs". Is there a website that shows the conditions of the hens and the companies?

BTW there is humane slaughter. The Kosher way of slaughtering is very peaceful. If I had to be killed it's they way I would want to go.

8:30AM PST on Feb 27, 2012

Oh my gosh. I had no idea it was so bad. I pay $5.50 a dozen at my natural foods store because the label reads "From Cage Free, Organic Vegetarian Grain Fed Hens". I have just got to make the leap from Vegetarian to Vegan.

4:58AM PDT on Apr 28, 2011

The cruelty practiced in factory farming is ghastly, nauseating, makes me ashamed to be a human being. Most people would find it so. Rather than acknowledge what is being done in their names, they turn away and pretend it doesn't happen.

10:52AM PDT on Apr 26, 2011

It's so sad that our world and most of the people in it care only about money. They have no compassion for the animals, they don't care about them, they care only about the money they make from them. Hopefully someday things will change if more people get on board and fight for them. Instead of saying, which I hear all the time when I tell people I am a vegetarian. They say " One person can't make a difference". This is so untrue! Every vegetarian , vegan, every signature on a petition, every dollar added to a animal abuse campaign, makes a huge difference. Thats one more person, one more signature, or one more dollar that was not there before, they all add up to help save one more animal!

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