photo: inspector_81/Creative Commons
Perhaps this isn't surprising for seasoned animal welfare watchers, but for the novice pay attention: According to a new article in the forthcoming issue of the Temple Journal of Science, Technology & Environmental Law all those labels you see on egg packaging touting 'cage-free' or other seemingly good for the hens phrases often don't stand up to scrutiny and may be misleading consumers.Report author Sheila Rodriguez says (via Science Daily),
Most hens are packed eight or nine hens to a cages so small that hens are unable to stretch a wing...fewer than 5% of eggs in the US that are not produced under these conditions are from hens that were not even allowed outside...'cage-free' hens are a subset of factory farmed production. Even small farms that do not raise hens under industrial production standards purchase their birds from factory-farmed hatcheries.
Rodriguez goes on to point out that marketing claims such as 'free-range' or 'free-roaming' often appear on egg cartons, technically these claims are only applicable to birds raised for their meat, not for their eggs.All told Rodriguez argues that animal welfare claims made by egg producers are difficult to verify, with enforcement lacking--even when it comes to organic standards.
American Humane Certified
What to do, short of not eating eggs (not a bad option...)? As Jaymi reported, if you look for the American Humane Certified label you can be more assured that the hens were treated humanely:
During the past several months, American Humane Certified has audited and certified eight cage-free egg producers, bringing the total number of American Humane Certified cage-free egg producers to 10 and representing 8 million of the 12 million to 13 million laying hens producing cage-free eggs annually in the United States. American Humane Certified, the nation's first animal-welfare program dedicated to the humane treatment of farm animals, now is also the clear leader in certifying humane treatment in the cage-free egg sector.
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