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The world of industrial animal agriculture has progressed exponentially over the past 100 years. Today, meat consumption has become synonymous with being “American,” and many people do not consider a meal without some form of animal protein as being “complete.” But, despite the ubiquity of meat, eggs and dairy in the U.S. not many people understand how animals in the agriculture industry are raised, slaughtered and delivered to their local grocery stores.

The reality of life for animals on factory farms is gruesome to say the least. Thousands of animals are kept in cramped, filthy conditions for the duration of their lives, many of whom reach the slaughterhouse too sick to even stand. In an effort to hide the reality of where the products we consume come from, the animal agriculture industry employs clever marketing techniques to convince consumers that the animal products they are purchasing are in some way “better” and “different” than your standard mass-produced ones.

Rather than telling consumers their meat and eggs came from concentrated feeding operations where countless of animals were housed in cramped, unsanitary conditions – marketers capitalize on the “positive” and label these product as being fed and “all vegetarian diet.” This creates the illusion that animal welfare was actually given ample thought and consideration … making the consumer feel like they’re making and informed choice and picking a high-quality product. The same often occurs in the case of the “cage-free” and “free-range” label for chickens and eggs. Sadly, the difference between what this label implies and what it actually means, seems to have consumers incredibly confused.

What Free-Range Should Mean Versus Reality

In the chicken industry, the label “free-range” largely applies to chickens who are raised for meat. From accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) guidelines, free-range chickens are allowed access to an outdoor area. The official governance reads as such, “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”

When you hear the term, you probably think of a wide open field where chickens are allowed to peck at grass and insects as please. Something like this:

Think You Know 'Free-Range' and 'Cage Free' Chicken? Think Again. dbaronoss/Flickr

However, around 99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat in the United States are raised in factory farm conditions. So, rather than just having a few birds to keep track of, the typical factory farm “farmer” has around 20,000 to look after. Usually, these birds are confined to warehouses, where they may technically have access to a door that leads to designated outdoor area, but because of the mass crowding of birds – it is highly likely that many will never see the daylight during their extremely short lifetimes.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals is defined.”

In addition, chickens who are labeled “free-range” are also subjected to painful industry practices such as debeaking, which involves searing off the sensitive tip of the chicken’s beak without pain-killers.

Here is what a “free-range” chicken farm really looks like:

Think You Know 'Free-Range' and 'Cage Free' Chicken? Think Again. Compassion in World Farming/Flickr

What Cage-Free Should Mean Versus Reality

A cage-free label indicates that chickens have lived entirely free of cages. In the case of chickens raised for meat, these birds are rarely ever caged before transport to slaughter, according to HSUS, “this label on poultry products has virtually no relevance to animal welfare.”

Where this label actually does hold weight is in the case of egg-laying hens. Most egg-laying hens raised in factory farms live in small battery cages that are shared with five to ten other hens, each is allotted a space the size of an iPad. This existence is incredibly stressful, not to mention highly unsanitary as the battery cages are often stacked one on top of the other. Battery hens can never spread their wings fully, a luxury that “cage-free” hens can enjoy.

Being allowed enough space to spread their wings, you might imagine that a cage-free hen farm would look something like this:

Think You Know 'Free-Range' and 'Cage Free' Chicken? Think Again. Jessica Luca/Flickr

 

Yet, again in the case of factory farmed raised hens, the term cage-free is also misleading. The typical hen house contains 100,000 egg-laying hens. In order to store all these chickens in a manner that is the most efficient and economically profitable, cage-free farms actually look like this:

 Think You Know 'Free-Range' and 'Cage Free' Chicken? Think Again. PETA

What You Can Do

Now that you know the truth about what these labels mean, it is your duty to share truth. As consumers, it is our job to hold meat producers accountable for the claims they make and the best way to do that is by choosing not to support them.

Chickens are highly intelligent, sentient beings and keeping them in these conditions is extremely cruel and inhumane. You might think that purchasing “free-range” or “cage-free” is the best choice you can make, but when you look at these images, does that really seem like the case?

Thankfully, there are many chicken and egg substitutes are not only delicious, but free of all cruelty to animals. When you have an option that is truly better … why bother with anything else?

Think You Know 'Free-Range' and 'Cage Free' Chicken? Think Again.

 

Graphic by Hannah Williams

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0 comments on “Think You Know ‘Free-Range’ and ‘Cage Free’ Chicken? Think Again.”

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Nicole
8 Days ago

Well sorry to inform the readers, but this article is not only EXTREMELY bisased but also not completely accurate. That is an example of "range free" (big difference) Yes, that is what cage free looks like. Caged birds are the cleanest barns. Range free and cage free barns are the worst health conditions for chickens. They are impossible to keep clean and are much dustier than caged barns. I know not everyone agrees with caged that is fine, but a farmers income depends on their animals. They are not going to purposely hurt their animals by either abusing or not giving them proper care. When they trim their beaks, it is not as painful as you make is sound. The heat helps prevent infection and it is about the pain as a piercing. (not as bad as it reads) This prevent chickens from killing each other. The term "pecking order" comes from this. Chickens are cannibals in nature, but if a farmer lets his chickens be natural he gets blamed, but doing all he can for the chickens, he also gets blamed.


Reply
katie
5 Months Ago

Is there anything you can recommend for someone to do if they have to have meat in their diets? Due to a medical condition I cannot digestive alternative forms of protein (beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains). I want to contribute to animal suffering as little as possible, but if I stop eating meat I\'ll be sick. I\'ve been eating the epic brand because it seems like they are very ethical in their animal welfare but I am not certain. What else can I do other than finding a local farmer and actually seeing the conditions myself?


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James tomeny
6 Months Ago

This is ridiculous, i am not commenting to talk bad about your article, but cage free chickens are what you have as an example of "Free range" chickens, and free range chickens are not even shown in the article. free range chickens are chickens that have a house but are all set on a plot of land in the sunlight for daylight hours before being moved to their chicken coup for the night to protect them from predators.


Reply
peter
19 Mar 2017

the free range chickens you speak of are the other 1%. The point the article was trying to make was that in 99.9% of cases free range chickens are not what you think and shouldn\'t be labeled as such. They are chickens that live in factory conditions and have \'access\' to the outdoors.

quote:
However, around 99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat in the United States are raised in factory farm conditions. So, rather than just having a few birds to keep track of, the typical factory farm “farmer” has around 20,000 to look after. Usually, these birds are confined to warehouses, where they may technically have access to a door that leads to designated outdoor area, but because of the mass crowding of birds – it is highly likely that many will never see the daylight during their extremely short lifetimes.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals is defined.”.....

mykaela
03 Aug 2017

i agree with James. because i have chickens over 1,000 and they can go wherever they want.

Marcia Shiel
2 Years Ago

i was duped thinking buying cage free was encouraging decent animal welfare I am searching for an egg substitute . i know there was a company in california working on this .i forgot name and am unsure if its available for purchase yet


Reply
sonja711
07 Jan 2015

Maybe try looking for a local farmer who raises chickens. I have 5 wonderful hens that have their own run as well as I let them out at least once a day. Any one who buys eggs from me is welcome to see how they live.

Nikki Crome
12 Jun 2017

If you\'re looking for an egg substitute to use in baking, etc...look up "Flax Seed Substitute For Eggs" You simply grind up Flax Seed and mix with water. I have written down in my recipes 1:3 ratio (flax/water) and they suggested tablespoons as the form of measurement. Sure, it\'s not "eggs" - but they can really create marvelous baked vegan goods this way. Even look into Chia Seeds, they have a gel they form which could also help bond. I formed an allergy to eggs in 2003, and anytime I tried to eat them, ,no matter what the dish, if it was solely eggs as the star..scrambled, omelet, no butter vs butter etc..etc....my stomach would be in nots and it progressively got worse to where my stomach would reject it ...the last time was enough for me to say goodbye to eggs. They used to be a staple in my life, as well as meat. I never thought I\'d ever give those two up - but - my body feels fantastic. Hope this helps you and others! )

Laila
2 Years Ago

I think I will stop using eggs altogether if something does not change. This is total animal abuse! I have been paying way higher for cage free eggs to discover this??


Reply
Carol L. A.
2 Years Ago

Right you are, Karen. Even the "family farmer" runs a commercial operation where production and profits matter most and come first.

When I order "vegetable fried rice," for example, I always add, "No egg, please." Many Chinese and other Asian restaurants add egg to their fried rice dishes. I don\'t care if the egg came from a "free-range" or "cage free" operation, all I really care about is that it came from a chicken, and I don\'t support misery.


Reply
Nikki Crome
12 Jun 2017

I find this mindset very strange.

Regardless if they are free-range, cage free, or pampered with a mani and pedi before they get slaughtered - who cares? They STILL are killed. That\'s like me killing my pet dog to eat it after 12 years of taking care of it. So, then it would make it right? It\'s morbid.

If I were a chicken, I\'d be like "can we just get this shit over with?"

Karen Davis
2 Years Ago

Mass consumption of animal products means mass production of animals. Every commercial operation is crowded, cruel, and inhumane for the animals being raised for consumption. Give a cluck - go vegan, and get others to join you. Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns www.upc-online.org


Reply
claudia
02 Jan 2015

It is deplorable what the factory farms do to animals. But it needs to be dealt with on a government level. Because you can talk to people, but if they know it is allowed to continue with no government intervention, they won\'t change either.

katie
29 Mar 2017

what if you cannot stop eating meat because of a medical condition? i want to do as little harm as possible but have to consume meat because i cannot properly digest/absorb other sources of protein. what would you suggest to someone like myself? are there any buying practices i can keep in mind other than finding a local farmer myself and checking out the conditions? (i don\'t live anywhere near a farm to my knowledge)



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