Deciphering food labels isn't always a simple task.
In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 2 which required farm animals to be confined in a manner that allows them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. It eliminated the use of battery cages, small wire cages where laying hens would sit with little movement their whole lives.
Prop 2 received nearly 64 percent of the vote, reflecting people's desire for humane treatment of animals.
The law gave egg producers until 2015 to make the proper changes but nearly two years later, there is still confusion on whether or not cage-free eggs are always the most humane.
Eggs have many different labels.
Egg cartons marked with a Free Range label refer to eggs that come from hens housed in a building, room or area with continuous access to food and water. The hens also have access outdoors during their laying cycle, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The USDA defines Cage-Free eggs as coming from hens that can roam in an enclosed building or room where they have continuous access to food and water, but they don't need to have access outdoors.
Many times, Cage-Free hens are confined to dark barns, and are often still in close proximity of other chickens, which pose dangers such as being injured by the flock.
If an egg carton is labeled as coming from Pasture-Raised chickens, this typically means the chickens spend the majority of time free roaming outdoors, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The hens usually spend time indoors overnight for their safety.
Organic eggs are federally regulated by the USDA. The label isn't connected to the chickens' living conditions, it just means the bird feed is vegetarian and free of pesticides and antibiotics as required by USDA organic guidelines.
Some egg labels may also be certified by a number of different animal welfare programs.
- Animal Welfare Approved: considered to be a highest standard of any third-party auditing. Flocks must be less than 500 birds. Doesn't allow forced molting through starvation or beak cutting. The outdoor space must be covered by growing vegetation and must provide at least four square feet per bird.
- Certified Humane: Has specific regulations for three levels of certification. Free-Range, Pasture-Raised and Cage-Free all prohibit beak cutting and forced molting through starvation.
- American Human Certified: Allows use of Enriched Colony Cages but also practices Cage-Free, Free-Range and Pasture.
- Food Alliance Certified: Allows beak cutting but no forced starvation for molting. No meat or animal byproduct is allowed in feed. Birds are cage-free and should spend at least 8 hours outdoors a day.
- United Egg Producers Certified: Most U.S egg industry complies with UEP Certified standards. Allows both caged and cage-free chickens.
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