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The real meaning behind egg labels

Organic, cage free eggs
Organic, cage free eggs

People seem to be becoming more and more aware of the cruelties with hens, which is why “organic,” “cage free,” and “free range” eggs are becoming popular. However, just because some eggs have these titles does not always mean that the hens are treated more humanely. A closer look at just what exactly the conditions need to be to obtain any of these labels can help the buyer determine if, in fact, the hens that laid the eggs are treated more humanely.

In order to receive the “organic” label, the product must meet the USDA’s National Organic Standards. This ensures that no antibiotics or growth hormones were used on the hens, that they were only fed 100% organic, natural feed, and that the animals were provided with access to the outdoors. Additionally, organic certified agents are required to test samples of the product “from at least 5 percent of the operations they certify on an animal bases.”

For the "cage free" label there isn’t a specific legal designation. In a typical cage free farm battery cages cannot be used, and usually hens do have enough space to walk around. However, conditions can still be fairly crowded; hens can still have their beaks cut off, and are often kept in dark buildings.

To be eligible for the "free range" label, hens are required to have access to the outside. However, the quality of the outside environment, the size of it, and the amount of time the hens have access to it are no where specified. Some sort of access is the only requirement, so a farm could gain this label simply for having a door somewhere in the facility leading to the outside. Due to the food and water remaining in the enclosure and the doors to the outside remaining shut for the bird's first few weeks of life, it finds no reason so suddenly risk going out into the unknown when given the chance to go outside. Because of this it is completely possible that the hens that lay the eggs labeled “free range” have never actually been outside at all.

Being riddled with loopholes, buying eggs with any of these labels does not guarantee that their chickens are treated any better than normal factory ones. Though out of these labels, it can be argued that the “organic” label is the most true to its name, with more specific guidelines and checkups. This does not mean that all hens are treated horribly, as some farms do stick true to their labels by allowing the chickens hours of outdoor time in safe, healthy environments with lots of room for them to roam around. The consumer just needs to be aware that having one of these labels does not mean the chickens were treated any better.