I guess buying eggs these days is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Did the chickens live cage free or were they free-range, what were they fed, were antibiotics used? Did they live happily ever after on Old McDonald’s Farm?
From the Humane Society of the United States Website, it appears that most of the labeling has very little value, since there is little enforcement, if any from third party auditing and standards are not defined.
For example, here is a summary of the various labels found on egg cartons from the Humane Society of the United States.
- Fed a vegan organic diet free of pesticides and antibiotic
- Uncaged, but confined
- Forced molting and beak cutting permitted.
Free Range/Free Roaming
- No standards set
- Uncaged, but confined
- No diet restrictions
- Beak cutting and forced molting allowed.
- Uncaged but confined
- Stocking density and number of perches regulated.
- No forced molting; beak cutting allowed
Animal Welfare Approved
- Cage-free and outdoor access
- Stocking density, perching space and nesting boxes
- Natural molting; no beak cutting
American Humane Certified
- Cage confined or cage-free
- Forced molting through starvation prohibited; beak cutting allowed
- Uncaged but no outdoor access
- Beak cutting permitted
- No auditing by third parties
Food Alliance Certified
- Cage-free with outdoor access
- Stocking density, perch, space and nesting requirements
- Starvation molting prohibited; beak cutting permitted.
United Egg Producers Certified
- Little space – less than the size of a sheet of paper.
- Confined, restricted, barren battery cages.
- Forced molting through starvation prohibited; beak cutting allowed.
It appears that the highest standards for animal welfare are found in Animal Welfare Approved labels from the Animal Welfare Institute. However, no producers participate or sell to supermarkets.
The lowest standards appear to be from the United Egg Producers Certified Label. The use of battery cages is described as wire enclosures stacked several tiers high, extending down long rows inside windowless warehouses. The cages offer less space per hen than the area of a single sheet of paper. Severe restriction limits the hens from engaging in natural practices – nesting, perching, walking, dust bathing, foraging, and spreading their wings. Many countries have banned this system. U.S egg producers still overcrowd about 300 million hens in these enclosures as demonstrated in the documentary, Food, Inc. Please check it out.
- American Humane Association Hails ‘Yes’ Vote on Humane Standards for Poultry in Washington (prnewswire.com)
- The advantages to Cage Free Environments for Laying Hens (giftedearthoriginalsblog.com)