Getting to the Truth Behind Egg Labeling

By Alexandra Beane — November 02, 2012

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has filed a class-action lawsuit against Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs (more commonly known as Judy’s Eggs) and Petaluma Egg Farm for violating California’s consumer protection laws involves the packaging. Judy’s Eggs cartons show hens “roaming about an expansive green field,” and state that hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley. ALDF charges that the hens are actually “crammed in covered sheds with no outdoor access.” According to Stephen Wells, ALDF’s Executive Director, “Consumers who care about the welfare of egg-laying hens have been deceived.”

Many egg consumers who consider themselves conscientious about the way in which hens are raised pay attention to labels such as cage-free, free-range, and organic. But what do these terms mean? And are egg producers required to adhere to the conditions under which they claim to raise the hens?

Cage-free:According to report on CNN.com, there is not actually a legal requirement for the raising of hens whose eggs are labeled “cage free,” and there is no regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Even if egg producers are adhering to the cage-free conditions, and not using the battery cages in which most egg-laying hens are confined, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) “Most cage-free hens live in very large flocks that can consist of many thousands of hens who never go outside.”

Free-range:
Again, the requirements are vague on this term. The USDA designation “free range” or “free roaming” states only: “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” As CNN.com noted, “While some egg producers are truly free-range, and the chickens remain outdoors for a good deal of the time, there is nothing preventing a factory farm from labeling eggs as free range, merely because the structure in which the chickens live has a door to an outside yard.”

Organic:For eggs to get the USDA’s National Organic Program seal, egg producers must meet requirements regarding the crops that the hens are fed, and the hens may not be given antibiotics unless they are ill. The hens are required to be kept in a cage-free environment, which gets us back to the requirements (or lack thereof) for cage-free eggs.

There is some good news on the horizon in the U.S., thanks to the voters of California (one of the top egg-producing states in the country) who in Nov. 2008 passed Proposition 2, which increased the amount of space for several types of animals on factory farms, including hens, beginning in 2015. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took this a step further and signed a bill extending the new Prop 2 regulations to all eggs sold in California. No doubt, an impetus for this was the fact that California egg producers would have suffered financially against states without these space requirements. Nonetheless, as Gov. Schwarzenegger wrote in his signing statement, “This bill is good for both California egg producers and animal welfare.”

 

Courtesy Image: Animal Legal Defense Fund and

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