Cage-Free vs. Free-Range: The Truth Behind Eggs and Confusing Terminology

Categories: Food Policy

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Cross Duck
"Free-range eggs" doesn't exactly mean chickens can roam freely.
Whenever I go grocery shopping, I always buy cage-free or free-range eggs, mainly because when I see the labels "cage-free" or "free-range," I imagine a bunch of chickens roaming freely in the fields and enjoying life. It makes me feel like a good person for purchasing eggs that come from chickens that live life outside a constraining cage.

However, a documentary created last year (nominated in the PBS Online Film Festival), "The Story of an Egg," reveals the truth behind these terms, which don't mean what you think they would.

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Brookford Farm
Pasture-raised chickens can roam fields freely.
This six-minute video uncovers the truth behind the terms "cage-free" and "free-range." Although eggs labeled cage-free come from chickens not living in cages, the alternative living environment isn't necessarily any better.

The problem with this definition is that it doesn't explain the chickens' living conditions; it only tells you where they aren't living, rather than where they are. It is great that cage-free eggs come from chickens not living in cages. However, the lack of description of their current living environment is misleading to the public. Yes, they are not constrained in tiny cages where they can't move around, but now they are crammed into a warehouse without room to move. Doesn't sound any better to me than living in a cage.

Free-range is also a highly misleading label. If you ask anyone what he thinks the definition of "free-range chicken" is, he will most likely say it means that the chickens can freely roam outside. Unfortunately, this is incorrect. Contrary to the majority belief, free-range chickens simply have to have access outside, and this access outside is not as big as you would expect it to be. In fact, there isn't a standard size to the outdoor access or even a standard length of time chickens can be outside.

Story of an Egg offers an alternative to these misleading labels: "pasture-raised," which means exactly what it says. Chickens living in a pasture. Not in a cooped-up cage, not in a crammed warehouse and not with limited access to the outdoors. The video predicts that this term will catch on with more farmers across the country.

And as this practice catches on with more producers and consumers, perhaps more chickens will have the opportunity to live outside and actually roam the pastures.



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6 comments
Carlos A. Martinez
Carlos A. Martinez

If your chickens are eating vegetarian grain like both of these are then you are at a loss. Chickens are not vegetarians but eat bugs in the grass. Love to order real pasture eating non GMO fed eggs but not the rest.

afpotter214
afpotter214

There appears to be no limit on the amount of money some people spend on fancy eggs. $6.00 a dozen? Ludicrous. Figuring out which kinds of eggs to buy is a quandry for the rich. Cheaper to buy chickens like dermgerm did & cage his garden. 

dermgerm
dermgerm

Backyard egg laying hens are cheap and cool and good company. I only have 3 and I just give away eggs at this point. They have a coop they sleep in, but unless they're tired, they mostly just roll around in the dirt in the back. The only problem? They aren't caged at all, so they tend to rip up the garden. Maybe I need to cage the plants...

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@dermgerm  

How do you keep cats and possums from killing them?

dermgerm
dermgerm

@Bruce_Are @dermgerm I've never really considered anything killing them. I mean, they scare my dog sometimes! They have their coop if they need to get away. But they fly as well. They have a pretty sweet life and don't fly away or anything, but now I'm curious why nothing tries to eat them. They are bigger than a cat.. 

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