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.