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


Emma Z
Past Member about a year ago

Thank you

Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Bill C.
Bill C4 years ago

Free range eggs means the eggs can run anywhere they wish....


a local sarcastic cynic...

stewart parks
stew p4 years ago

I really love eggs. I buy the only brand in my grocery store that says free range. The eggs are brown and taste richer than those that have to mass produce.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra6 years ago

Thank you Piper, for Sharing this!

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

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.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 6 years ago

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.

Kirsten P.
Kirsten P6 years ago

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.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

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.