With all the marketing hype about cage free eggs and free range eggs and their costs, I decided to put on my inspector cap and try to figure out what it real versus what I perceive. I have wonderful visions of chickens cage free roaming a chicken yard or pasture; well I was kinda right for a very few chickens. Here is what i
More and more eggs at markets are labeled as “cage-free”—it certainly sounds good, but what does it actually mean? A “cage free” claim on an egg carton label means that the hens were not confined in cages. It does not mean that the hens had access to the outdoors. Cage Free can mean confined to cramped hen house conditions 8×11 inches per chicken and they never see the sky.
Hen houses that confine laying hens in small cages have been the preferred method of housing in the egg industry since the 1960s. According to a 2016 estimate by the United Egg Producers, the industry trade group for egg producers, 90.1% of the laying hens in the U.S. are caged, and caged hens produce approximately 94% of commercial eggs in the U.S
So, how do we know if cage Free is actually so? Well FDA requires truth in labeling, and some are actually verified not by a physical inspection, but a desk audit. If an egg carton has a U.S. Grademark (USDA Grade shield), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) verifies claims such as “cage free.” Approximately half of shell eggs produced in the U.S. are officially graded by the USDA.
Unfortunately, large-scale egg producers have exploited the USDA’s weak definitions on free range chickens. In fact, the only thing that’s required by the USDA to be “free range” is that “producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside”.
The lax definition means that producers can, and do, label their eggs as “free-range” even if all they do is leave a single doggy-door open in their huge chicken warehouses. They’re sold as “free range” regardless of whether the birds ever learn to go outside. There are no regulations on what the outside ‘free ranging’ area is. It may be a muddy yard without vegetation or cement platform. In addition, regulations on environmental quality, number of birds, square foot per bird, or de-beaking are not specified.
So, what do I do? Again I support local farmers, I buy my eggs from small producers, if you don’t have a local producer check out
Nellies Free Range Eggs , they are the only national producer who discloses their farming practices.