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Exposing the terms free-range & cage-free

October 14, 2010

Your cage-free not cruelty free eggs

Most people inherently want to do good, I really do believe that. This is the very reason why I’m devoting a little piece to dispelling the myths behind terms like free-range and cage-free. It isn’t to make you feel bad, it really isn’t! It’s just to inform you, so that you feel empowered, because I know that you all really do mean well.

The cage-free and free-range terms are myths perpetuated by the meat industry. They’ve successfully provided many of us — including myself at one time — with a false sense of comfort. A “cage-free” stamp makes you feel good, and it’s the stamp of approval that validates that you. You feel that you are making a humane choice.

Many people will proudly state that they will only buy free-range poultry and cage-free eggs. If you’re one of these people, think hard for a moment about what these terms mean to you. Why have you purchased products with these labels? Do you envision the animals happy, on a green pasture — not in a cage but free to roam about with farmers caring for them? I’m very sorry to say this but, you’ve been fooled. 

I’d like to dispel these myths and help you understand that these terms are nothing more than marketing slogans. I hopped on over to the USDA site and did some research.  They have no regulatory policy regarding cage-free eggs. To be a cage-free animal isn’t to be able to happily roam around.  The cage-free eggs that you eat come from hens that are housed in large, overcrowded “sheds” instead of “cages”.  Hmmm. Well, sheds have to be better, right?  Nope. There are so many birds packed into these sheds that the hens are unable to flap their wings, which is denying them a basic, natural behavior. The sheds are soaked with urine and the animals live a life barely moving, surrounded by their own feces.  They are treated no differently than the caged hens. The cage-free birds still have their beaks cut off with a hot blade and no pain killers, a terribly painful mutilation. These cage-free birds are typically left to die when they become ill due to lack of veterinary care. When the sick birds eventually die, their corpses are left to rot in the shed alongside the egg-laying hens that provide you with your “cage-free” eggs.

 

Here are some cage-free animals.

 

Both cage and cage-free systems typically buy their hens from hatcheries that kill the male chicks upon hatching since they are of no use to egg-producing  farmers. More than 200 million males are killed each year in the United States alone. The male chickens are usually brutally killed by either being crushed, thrown in large plastic bags and suffocated, or they are thrown — still alive — into a grinder to be processed as feed. Furthermore, both cage and cage-free hens are typically slaughtered at less than two years old, far less than half their normal lifespan. Cage-free hens are also transported long distances to slaughter plants with no food or water. The truth is that cage-free hens lives are just as miserable as the caged hens. While it is true, they are not in cages, they are kept in sheds, which are cramped, dark and cold, with cement floors. They are just as sickly and miserable and do not have a better diet than caged hens. This isn’t the sort of food that you want to be putting into your body or your child’s body, is it?

 

They're "cage-free" but live in sheds like this.

 

Now that I’ve given you a glimpse into the wonderful life of those hens that provide consumers with cage-free eggs, let’s take a look at the term “free-range”. The USDA does have a requirement that must be met in order to earn the certification of “free-range.” Per USDA policy, in order to be certified as free-range, birds must be raised with access to the outdoors and provided a traditional high-protein diet. The policy goes on to state that the birds may be temporarily confined for reasons of health, safety, the animal’s stage of production, or to protect soil or water quality. If this sounds fair and reasonable to you, it really isn’t at all. Free-range isn’t necessarily cruelty-free.

For many of these free-range chickens, their access to the outdoors is only when they are transported to the windowless chicken sheds and then again when they are removed from the shed for slaughter. That is their life outdoors and their life as free-range chickens. The USDA offers no specifications as to how much outdoor exposure the birds must receive, nor is there any way to enforce such a requirement even if it were mandated. Always read the fine print.

 

These chickens are free-range.

 

Sadly, cage-free and free-range animals endure virtually the exact same existence as those raised in a battery cage. The public is lead to believe that by purchasing  these products, they are doing the right thing and that they’re buying a humane product. It just isn’t so.

U.S. producers are turning to these marketing statements and claims as a way to capture high-value markets and premium prices.  They are boosting their profits by charging you more, yet you’re not getting a better product! You wouldn’t believe the profit margins these producers are making. There are millions of healthy, discerning consumers out there who are willing to pay higher prices for free-range and cage-free. Is this you? If so, though you are well-intentioned, you are unwittingly padding the pockets of these poultry slaughterhouses, hatcheries and egg producers. If consumers continue to fall for their lies and purchase their cage-free and free-range products, they will continue to increase the size of their inhumane operations, as well as their big advertising budgets intended to deceive you.

I understand I’ve rocked the boat a bit here. What’s the answer? Whom can I trust? I’m sure a few thoughts are racing through your minds. I have spent nearly 24 years on this earth eating these sorts of products. My advice going forward to you is to change the way that you spend your dollar. These agribusinesses are absolutely nothing without your money.

I also believe in and love local farmers.  They are a perfect solution if you don’t want to give up eggs and poultry but don’t want to support a cruel industry.  Make a fun trip out of it and go see the chickens who’ll provide you with your eggs. You can see how they’re raised, where they’re housed, what kind of physical condition they’re in, and what sort of food they’re eating.

Knowledge is power. Stop buying cage-free and free-range. You’ll be healthier and smarter for it.

If you’d like to read more about the meat industry and other common practices, read here. Watch this VIDEO on the cruelty of this industry:

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