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Egg Farmers Caught Lying to Consumers About Hens’ Lives

Egg Farmers Caught Lying to Consumers About Hens’ Lives

Eggs laid by happy hens, with space to frolic and lounge in the sun, are a more attractive buy for many shoppers than eggs from hens caged in factory farms. It’s no wonder, then, that egg producers strive to give the appearance that their hens live the good life.

Too often “appearance” is where the happy ends, as it did at Judy’s Family Farm. Judy’s packaged its eggs in cartons festooned with pictures of hens enjoying expansive grassy fields, accompanied by the statement that the hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to roam, scratch, and play.”

The reality was different. The hens weren’t outside, but inside. They weren’t raised in wide open spaces — they were crammed together in tight spaces. They weren’t free to roam, scratch, or play. They didn’t even have space to stretch their wings.

The Animal Defense Fund (ALDF) sued Judy’s and its owner, Steven Mahrt, who does business as Petaluma Farms. It alleged that the hens Mahrt sold spent their lives in “modern, barren industrial sheds” with no outdoor access, nothing like what consumers were led to believe. Mahrt essentially admitted as much to a newspaper called the Press Democrat, saying that letting all egg-laying hens outside “doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen anywhere.”

There are precious few laws that require farmers to give hens adequate space, outdoor access, or something to do. Instead of accusing the defendants of mistreating hens, ALDF got creative and sued the businesses for duping consumers with misleading images and text on their packaging. It sued in California, which has particularly strong consumer protection laws. The defendants agreed to a settlement, though without admitting that they were guilty of false advertising.

The settlement requires two types of amends from the defendants: one is, of course, giving up some money; the other is changing the way they do business. Defendants will pay three non-profit agencies – Sonoma Humane Society, Public Justice Foundation, and Consumer Action – $14,666 each. They will also pay $1,000 to the individual plaintiff and egg-consumer who brought the case with ALDF.

The other piece of the settlement is for the defendants to change the way they do business. Judy’s Eggs cartons will no longer feature a picture of hens. The statement that their hens can roam, scratch, and play, is also gone. This represents an important economic boon to farms that really do provide ample outdoor space for their chickens: consumers who prefer eggs from hens who don’t spend their entire lives in cages will stop buying from Judy’s and start directing their dollars towards businesses with practices that align with their values.

Another way defendants have to change is to gain “Certified Humane” status, which guarantees that they are meeting certain minimum standards of animal welfare. But the settlement also provides that defendants do not need to change their physical plants at all to get this status. In other words, packing chickens in too tightly for them to spread their wings and never letting them outside is considered humane. That is a sad reflection on the state of the law, values, and awareness in our country about factory farming conditions. It also undermines the change in Judy’s egg packaging: if the company can state on its cartons that the eggs within are Certified Humane, it may well hang onto some of those customers who might otherwise give their business to a more humane farm.

From an animal welfare perspective the settlement includes both good news and bad. The bad is that animals can be forced into lives of mind-numbing tedium and physical discomfort, and we call it humane. That places the bar for being humane so low that it will be hard to get meaningful improvements for hens without changes in the law. The good is that ALDF has crafted a new way to go after farms that try to profit off of consumers’ concern for animals without changing their ways: false advertising claims. If farms make hens wretched, the absolute least they can do is be honest about it.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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129 comments

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12:59PM PDT on Apr 26, 2014

If humans found some technology to achieve star travel (they won't ever do that, the human species is too stupid, primitive and bent on self destruction) and there was a chance humans might travel to other stars that had life planets, I would without hesitation find a way to sabotage and shoot them down before they had a chance to threaten any other planet. Humans being confined to Earth is a bad enough cancer for this universe.

5:49PM PDT on Apr 5, 2014

I buy only free-range eggs - and I want to know they are free-range! If you are going to use a living animal as part of your business, ensuring fair treatment is part of the cost, just as ensuring fair treatment of human workers is.

2:25AM PDT on Apr 3, 2014

Eggheads!!

6:48PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Cheating is nothing new to the food industry and other industries, so one must check out one's sources rather closely. Don't assume that the olive oil is all olive oil if you shop at the grocery store as companies mix other oils into, don't always assume that the chicken you buy is really what it says it is unless you check into the source.

CLAIRE S said that we can 'all become vegan', thus avoiding the cruelty. If one checks one's sources, then one need not become vegan. Since vegans comprise three percent of the world's population, I am not likely to become one, as I do eat meat, poultry along with eggs and make sure that the sources are not factory farmed and they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

5:03PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Not surprising. We are lied to all the time by cheating people.

5:21AM PDT on Mar 30, 2014

Glad they got caught.

1:08PM PDT on Mar 25, 2014

Transparency, transparency, transparency!!! Sad that this chickens were exploited, but so glad these folks got popped fort their deception!

There needs to be more inspections as consumers are entitled to the truth behind their food production.

Check out http://www.cornucopia.org. "The Cornucopia Institute, through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, provides needed information to family farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in the good food movement and to the media."

7:58PM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

Noted. Thanks!

5:01PM PDT on Mar 20, 2014

More transparency is needed in all areas of food production, be they animal or vegetable. We are lied to every day in so many ways, it's disgraceful. Thank you for this article.

9:27PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

Sometime people are stupid. I have raised chickens. I have collected egg and been pecked. Chicken are no people. Stop this foolishness and get some sense. Paying extra makes no sense at all. When what you need to pay attention to is the hormones the end up in you the end user.

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