Free-Range Hens Less Carbon Friendly

A headline out of Australia announces free-range hens produce more greenhouse gas than birds kept in cages. According to The Age, hens allowed to wander freely require more feed to produce a kilogram of eggs than their confined cousins. The result is a 20% increase in carbon footprint.

The Australian Egg Corporation partnered with government to produce the “Environmental Assessment of an Egg Production Supply Chain using Life Cycle Assessment.” The report looks at the whole “production supply chain” in order to tally the carbon footprint of eggs that find their way to Australian tables.

After all the inputs (feed, water, energy, housing) were examined in terms of cost and environmental impact, Australian eggs emerged as “a highly efficient form of protein production with respect to the environmental impacts and resource use issues addressed in this study.” When compared with other protein foods (i.e., meat), eggs came out ahead.

The results prompted the Australian Egg Corporation’s managing director, James Kelloway, to say,

The egg industry would be very happy to consider adding the environmental footprint or greenhouse gas emission status on egg labels.

However, it would be meaningless without other food products having to do it, or providing a reference point so consumers can compare food types or food categories.

The report is coolly abstract, but the patina of objectivity and the rosy comparison with other countries’ egg/carbon numbers avoids some of the more serious issues in egg production. Take, for instance, the impact on watersheds and the dead zones downstream of Big Chicken operations. Consider the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in supermarket meats. Think of the implications of eating eggs from hens subjected to horrendous cruelty. Contemplate the fate of male chicks.

While all of these issues reported in Care2 are from the U.S. and Canada, Australia’s hands are also stained in terms of its animal welfare record. In all fairness, Australia has made strides in the treatment of its egg layers, and 26% of its eggs come from free-range hens;  its environmental standards for waste from poultry farms are tougher. However, no matter how high the environmental standards or how humane the handling, battery hens are still confined in conditions to which no animal should be subjected.

It is not enough to consider the carbon footprint of our choices. Our eggnog, poached eggs, and quiches are the end product of a system that treats chickens as if their suffering does not count in comparison with our convenience. Consumers who learn that free-range hens are harder on the environment than caged birds may accept that as an excuse to continue confining them. Chickens deserve better than this.

Related Care2 Stories

Chicken Nuggets and the Death of Watersheds

Gulf of Mexico “DeadZone” Larger Than Ever and Growing

Canadian Chicken Has Alarming Amounts of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Blood on the Egg McMuffins, Buying Cruelty with Breakfast

Ground Up Alive: Baby Chicks Suffer


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Sue Griffiths
Sue Griffiths3 years ago

What a load of rubbish. Run a cruel business by keeping hens in deplorable conditions to enable a lower carbon footprint? Just what the egg laying intensive industry wants. Let the hens roam free and give them a life worth living, and let the human race offset their carbon footprint for them.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege3 years ago

Thank you for the article. Any reason is a good reason provided it helps make more money, at the expense of hens, once again.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

Relocalised food sources, with our own backyard hens, we know we get cruelty free food... without having to travel the distance!

Gloria L.
Gloria L.3 years ago

Bottom line.... every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. Support cruelty free food.

Lee Witton
3 years ago

We must, as humans capable of pro-actively making a difference for all living beings, think how choosing 'certified' organic, or purchasing from small, ethical farmers, can have a much greater impact on how factory farms do business. If you don't support factory farms, they eventually will have to change how they operate. It would be wonderful to see big corporate farms driven out of business, but that's not going to happen so it's up to the conscientious consumer to make sure our own carbon foot-print is made on the asses of these CEO's.

Lyn V.
Lyn v.3 years ago

Things are getting very silly. Checking how much gas a chicken passes. Has no one thought to perhaps stop wasting money on studies like this and put the money into good causes like feeding people or improving health.

After all how much toxic gases are in the air because of the wars every where around the world, ever think about that??????????

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

All living being need to be treated with respect.
We eat, and what we eat was alive. It is easy to believe that other life forces don't have feeling. But all life has feelings.
Just because the life force does not look like a human, doesn't mean it is a lesser being.
Humans need to learn this lesson.We are a part of this creation; not the rulers of it.

Sarah Metcalf
Sarah M.3 years ago

I would much rather have eggs from chickens who were ethically treated.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Nadu, you have it backwards. According to law, "cage free" means that the hens get to go outside for 10 minutes a day (or less in some states). Free range means just that, as does "naturally nested", which means that the hens come and go at will, and have shelter where they NEST to lay their eggs. Completely "free ranging"means they have no shelter "per se" and they could theoretically "nest" and lay eggs anywhere and everywhere.

Christine Stewart

I think the term "cage-free" can be used for chickens that are not in very nice conditions- like 10,000 hens in a huge enclosure with 2 feet of chicken manure under the metal mesh flooring. But I think "free-range" needs to mean that the chicken is actually able to walk around outside on the ground and in fresh air.