I still don’t feel like updating about how I built the coop (it’ll come) nor do I feel like updating about my life, so I figured I would share some information I have found myself discussing frequently with lots of people – especially now that I have chickens. The information is pertaining to the labels on the food products we eat, specifically those that promote a seemingly healthier product, especially in regards to eggs.
Lots of people go out to buy eggs with fancy labels on them to improve their diet or the quality of care the animals their product comes from recieve. After all, they would like to put their money where their mouth is, and not everyone can keep a few chickens in their back yard. They want to spend an extra $3 a dozen to get organic, free-range, vegetarian-fed, cage-free chicken eggs. They REALLY do. Heck, if someone was someone with the money to kill I would also. And as a business, every egg company in the world wants to slap as many of their labels on their product as possible.
Here’s the problem. This is what a cage-free, free-range, organic, vegetarian fed egg facility may very well look like;
That’s not exactly what you thought, was it? And why would it be? Look at any “cage free” package!
Disclaimer; I know nothing about how these particular brands produce their eggs.
The image that these things imply is one of joy and open fields. But this carton here belies the lie right on it’s own label;
You’ll notice that it too shows open fields on the package and advertizes itself as cage free. But it also says vegetarian. I own three chickens. All day, every day, they dig in the mud looking for worms. Constantly. Worms are not vegetarian, so the chickens must not be on a natural floor. Nor can they have an outdoor pen because mice and other rodents could easilly walk in which a chicken would gladly eat. For that matter, flies could buzz through. Neither of those are vegetarian. Which means; these chickens are kept indoors, likely enmasse like the first picture. They are certainly not the happy bird wandering the farm field featured on their own front label!
Some people may scoff. There’s no way our labeling laws would allow that! I am confident that my eggs are exactly what they say they are! Really? Let’s take a look at what The Law has to say about cage free chickens!
Let’s start with the big boys, the USDA. Here is what their own website says about free-range chickens. This is country-wide mind you. Applies to everyone.
FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING: Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
The process for getting a label approved for a food product is simple;
According to the FDA all you have to do is send in a written description saying you let your birds outside to get the label approved. Inspections are not nessicarially done to confirm this; they mostly go by the producer’s word.
Next let’s move onto the state level. Here in Ohio;
We at least have this, stating that “cage free” birds must have a grand total of one square foot per bird. Yes, one. My own birds are about a foot long from beak to bottom. That means my bird requires a minimum space requirement of it’s own body size. It’d be like having a large chair as your only space. It also says that birds must be able to lie down, naturally ventillate and that perches can’t let poop fall on other birds or their foods. And frankly, I am grateful for even that. If it were up to the USDA, those requirements wouldn’t even exist.
So when you buy your USDA certified cage free eggs, stop thinking of the beautiful field. Think about that concrete confinement setup where a small cat-door is opened into a tiny outdoor pen for ten minutes a day. That is considered free range and cage free. And those are the only facilities large enough to supply huge companies such as the “cage free” eggs served on Amtrak food cars, the “cage free” eggs used in Costco’s “real egg” Egg Beaters, or any of the whole Egglands Best eggs.
As for some of the other labels, organic is just a feed statement. The chickens may still be confines 6 to a cage and pooping on eachother while they eat their organic feed. And vegetarian? Chickens are willful omnivores. Their favorite snack in the world is a mouse. They will eat their own eggs if they are hungry. They will rip at carcasses. They hunt snakes. And in nature their diet is made primarially of bugs. The healthiest chickens (and any truly free range chickens) are not vegetarians at all. If you’re buying those vegetarian chicken eggs, you can bet they’re not on natural, healthy ground no matter what the label claims.
If you want your eggs to come from healthy, humanely kept chickens, there’s only one way to do it. Go to a farmer that raises chickens the way you like, and buy eggs from them. Learn about what and how they feed their animals. Don’t think just because you’re getting a free range egg that the chicken that laid it was any different than the one in a battery cage.
The only way you know for sure is to see it with your own eyes.