Label Me Confused
I spent 10 minutes one weekend looking for new eggs for my Sunday breakfast at home with Kevin. What I was looking for was company/farm that insured me the chickens were raised on pasture and had eaten their normal fare (including some grass, insects and grub). What I found was a lot of attempts to be ecologically and animal friendly. Including many touting CAGE-FREE, FREE-RANGE and my favorite RAISED NEAR SUNNY PORCHES AND WINDOWS.
I settled on Organic Valley’s half dozen large brown eggs, cage free and fed on 100% vegetarian feed. Seems nice and cozy doesn’t it. Well after all my reading I am learning to read between the lines. First things first though, what I DID learn about free-range chickens that are raised for meat is this:
The USDA requires the following of chickens raised for their meat; chickens are required to have access to the outdoors in order to be granted the free-range certification. This is great news. What I did find sad and frustrating was that eggs from “free-range” chickens have NO regulations. They are firmly resting on the honesty of the farmer to label themselves. Many egg farmers will sell their eggs with the free-range label simply because their chickens are housed in cages 2-3 inches above the average size or because there is a window in the shed. What this means for you and me is that when a farmer raises chickens merely for egg production there are no rules and they are free to label them as free-range if they so choose in order to help sell their product. This is insane! These farmers are allowed to claim free range on their packaging while doing nothing to back up the claim. Yikes! Note to self, no longer by “free range chicken eggs” unless I know the farmers standards specifically. That being said this is my interpretation of what I’ve learned by reading many books, articles and testimonials on this subject. It is my opinion and how I choose to shop.
Here is what I’ve learned about the different terms I see on packages:
Free-Range: For meat, the chicken is required to have access to the outdoors. You have to be somewhat skeptical about what exactly that means, but feel confident in choosing free-range chicken.
This by no means implies to be that these chickens enjoying a sun drenched afternoon with their fellow chicken buddies, no. But it is a choice
This to me means the farmer does what is required to gain the certification. This could include a porch the chickens have access too. Sorry to be so negative, but I’ve read a lot that has turned my stomach.
Note: Free-Range, according to the USDA only (only!) can be used for poultry. Meaning that there are absolutely no rules for beef, pork and other non-poultry meats. There are no rules stopping farmers and meat producers from writing “free-range”on their package. There is no certification behind the label and to me it might as well not be there at all.
Cage Free: Ohhh this one makes me mad. This means the chickens are not incased in cages so small they can barely move, but that they are inside a concrete (most likely) barn with no windows living in cramped conditions in horribly dirty and retched conditions. Great, I feel much better.
100% Vegetarian-Fed Chickens: This is what I see on the label of eggs at the store. Seems nice, if you’ve read the post on what animals are often fed this label will surely make you sleep sounder at night. But, there’s one thing it’s missing. The hidden reality that these chickens are not living and eating as they should be. Chickens are NOT vegetarians, and by claiming this statement, it implies this chicken is not roaming free, on the pasture. If that had happened, then they would have most likely ruined their 100% vegetarian fed label by *gasp eating a worm! So while it’s nice that they aren’t being fed animal byproducts they still are not eating how they should.
Pasture Raised: This is what I am searching for, this label implies that chickens are being raised in a manner most like their natural habits. It means to be that the animals is living close to a natural life and in some cases quite a good life.
Organic Eggs: Only regulates that the animals cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics and organic feed. (and don't worry a pasture can be certified organic)
My egg choice for the time being by producer Organic Valley had this statement on their website:
"While "free-range" suggests a better life for hens, it does not have defined standards beyond those common to all egg production. There is no independent, third party certification as with organic. Producer's of free-range eggs can use antibiotics, hormones, and non-organic feeds."
I know how confusing this all is, trust me. I spent a long time trying to wrap my head around these definitions myself. There is much more to this post that what I’ve put here. I will address other definitions soon. But for now I wanted to focus on my search for eggs from chickens living as good of a life as possible. You know, like the paintings and children’s stories we read as kids when we believed that farm animals were happy.