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What Does “Free Range” Really Mean For Your Eggs?

What Does “Free Range” Really Mean For Your Eggs?

Would you prefer to buy eggs from hens who lived a pleasant life, with access to the outdoors and the chance to play, instead of eggs from factory-farmed, intensively confined hens?

That’s nice, but good luck trying. The claims egg producers make on their packages, like “free-range,” mean nothing, and more specific claims about happy chickens may be false.

One example is Judy’s Eggs, produced by Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs. A printed statement on the inside of the lid claims that Judy’s “hens are raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play.’” The picture on top of the lid shows a chicken outside in the sun, surrounded by her chicks and watched over by two children (and, for good measure, a butterfly).

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is calling Judy’s bluff and filing a class-action lawsuit against the company for false advertising. According to ALDF, Judy’s chickens “are imprisoned indoors” in “an industrial shed.” The non-profit’s website shows a photograph of the chicken sheds at the “Family Farm,” as well as photos of Judy’s allegedly misleading egg cartons.

But ALDF has more up its sleeve than Judy’s Eggs’ specific claims about happy outdoor hens. Its case also attacks the use of phrases like “cage-free” and “free-range,” arguing that the “lack of clarity” about the meaning of these claims deceives consumers into buying eggs that they otherwise wouldn’t. As ALDF writes on its website, “cage-free is not cruelty-free.”

There is no governmental regulation or legal definition of “free-range” when it comes to eggs. And “cage-free” means only that the birds are not in cages — not that they aren’t crammed together on the floor of a shed with little room to engage in natural behaviors like nesting. They need not have access to the outdoors. Like caged hens, cage-free chickens are subject to painful mutilations like debeaking, and their male chicks are killed by suffocation, being ground up alive, or other tortures because they are of no use to egg producers, as I have described on Care2.

Given the absence of regulation and the routine cruel practices on egg farms, ALDF asserts that “the best way to ensure your choices don’t harm animals is to reduce or eliminate eggs from your diet.”

The second best choice is to buy only eggs bearing the “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” logo. The “Certified Humane” standards permit beak trimming (which they distinguish from debeaking), do not allow cages and require nest boxes that allow chickens to engage in their instinct to build nests and to lay their eggs in them. Do not confuse this logo with the Animal Care Certified label, which is an industry ruse that does not protect hens at all, as described on Compassion Over Killing’s website.

For more on how to change your diet to include fewer or no eggs, visit the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and take a look at their Vegetarian Starter Kit.

Related Stories:

Organic Doesn’t Mean Humane for Poultry

Take A Moment, Or A Month, To Appreciate Chickens

Horrific Conditions for Factory Farmed Chickens Exposed

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161 comments

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9:39AM PDT on Apr 27, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

1:39PM PST on Jan 8, 2013

Thank you Piper, for Sharing this!

12:10AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Natasha, good for you for doubting everything you read and desiring to do your own homework. That's the point that many of us have tried to make. Do NOT assume that when you read "organic" or "cage free" on a carton of eggs, that it means the hens who laid those eggs are happy, care-free birds with freedom to be what chickens should be. Feel free check out the farm for yourself................send them an e-mail, ask for a link to a website or visit the farm personally. If they have nothing to hide, they will welcome your interest and visit. I get eggs from a neighbor, so I know what life the hens live. JK B made great points. Do your own research, please, PLEASE don't assume what you read on this blog is always factual, especially when there is an agenda involved.............the member is vegan, or the writer has links to the industry being discussed, etc.

9:02AM PST on Jan 1, 2013

Thanks for this post,however i find myself sceptical where free range foods are labelled. I will believe it only if i personally see for myself and not through the internet on these animals welfare and the conditions which they are raised in. Most free range claims are just that,sadly to say...especially for these poor souls living a day only to die a thousand deaths.

6:03AM PST on Dec 10, 2012

The only other choice would be local farmers that you know allow for nesting. It is really sad that consumers are being taken advantage of for trying to make more ethical choices.

6:41PM PST on Nov 4, 2012

Arika, to each, their own. I've seen so many news stories and articles about Trader Joe's getting products from NON-humane sources or "other than", I just can't endorse them as you are. They've been the retailer behind many recalls of tainted products and their fish has been subject of not just one, but many articles about including species that are on the "threatened" or even "endangered" lists, mislabeling (selling lower quality fish as higher end) and more. They are NOT as "squeaky clean" as you seem to think.

2:58PM PST on Nov 4, 2012

I just contacted Trader Joe's to ask about their eggs, and they are extremely careful about the claims made about their eggs. No beak-trimming, no cruelty, and cage-free are in buildings, but have room to nest, and cruelty-free get to go outside.
Trader Joe's is very careful about what they sell, they want to make a buck, but NOT at the expense of their souls.
And the meat they sell that's conventional, may have been given antibiotics, but they are free of the residuals when killed for sale.
I love that store, and I trust them. So enough petitions against them!!!
Petition Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertson's, all you want, but quit picking on TJ's!

7:28PM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

I visited Greengate Farms, where the chickens have a big yard to roam in. Their only building is their henhouse, which is only for roosting. You can even go inside if you like. The eggs are so rich and nutritious, the yolks are orange. And that's without marigold and dyes in the feed!

Bottom line, you should do your research and visit places.

11:57AM PDT on Oct 30, 2012

There is little or nothing tastier than eggs from a real free range chicken on your plate, along side a few rashers of bacon from a free range porker.
We fortunately have a local farm where the pigs are wallowing in mud and feeding naturally in a large patch of woodland all day every day of their lives. The pigs are sold direct to a local butcher so are not stressed by being transported great distances. The Chickens also wander around the hedgerows and orchard eating what ever they can find, along with corn and stuff the farmer puts out for them. At night, most of them make their own way to the barn where they are reasonably safe from foxes and other predators, though a few do seem to prefer risking their lives by staying out all night.

9:12AM PDT on Oct 30, 2012

Ralph's Supermarket in Hollywood CA has just introduced a new egg called The Happy Egg Company. This company appears to be based in Texas, and they promise on the carton that the hens are free to roam outdoors, enjoying the freedom to do what comes naturally. Their slogan is, "We believe happy hens lay the best eggs." They also have a little graphic that shows the difference among Cage, Cage Free and Free Range eggs. I bought a dozen to see if there was a difference in taste, and there is - a whopping difference. For one thing, the yolks are high and tight, and their color is a deep orange. This boded well. I scrambled two of them up gently and was rewarded with maybe the best egg flavor since I was a child on my parents' chicken farm, which was, of course, natural and organic - and free range (There was none other in those days... ) in the temperate months. In the winter the hens were brought indoors, but they had free ranging ability in a huge house with roosting shelves on the sides.
So, I recommend hunting up this brand and giving them a try. Yum.

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