A Brief Guide to Egg Carton Labels and Their Relevance to Animal
A lot of people are asking me if my chickens are "free range" "organic" or what. Well, there is alot of confusion about
this because egg cartons have all kinds of labels on them proclaiming this or that. But there seems to be a big gap in
understanding exactly what this means (alot of it is BS) So, I found this nice article that helps clarify it somewhat.
This Article Borrowed from: http://www.hsus.org/farm/resources/pubs/animal_welfare_claims_on_egg_cartons.html
Green text is my comments
The vast number of consumer labels affixed to egg cartons can leave a shopper feeling as dazed and confused as a
laying hen trapped in a battery cage. One carton may label its eggs "Natural." Another carton may call them "Free
Range," while yet another may claim its eggs are "Certified Organic." How are thoughtful consumers supposed to
know what these labels and claims really mean?
The truth is that the majority of egg labels have little relevance to animal welfare or, if they do, they have no official
standards nor any mechanism to enforce them. Only three labels listed below are programs with official, audited
guidelines, but even those vary widely in terms of animal welfare. Those three are marked with an asterisk (*).
Certified Organic*: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access
(although there have been concerns about lax enforcement, with some large-scale producers not providing birds
meaningful access to the outdoors). They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as
required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. Beak cutting and forced molting through
starvation are permitted. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.
SAF- This is very close to what kind of eggs I am producing. I meet all the criteria EXCEPT for the organic diet. I feed
them Blue Seal Layer Pellets. It is basically corn and soybean meal. There are no antibiotics or pesticides in this food.
However, the corn is NOT organically grown so this doesn't qualify. Also I feed the chickens alot of human food too,
and much of this is not "organically grown" either. However, for the most part my chickens are raised under these
conditions. By the way "Beak Cutting" is used to keep the chickens from pecking each other to death. I don't do this
because I don't keep the chickens under crowded/stressed conditions. If you keep them happy they won't attack each
other. The "Forced Molting" is used in factory farms. Chickens don't lay eggs when they are molting (they periodically
replace old feathers with new feathers). So to even out production under factory farm conditions you need to starve
them so you can molt them all at the same time (otherwise they molt at different times). This way you can even out
production. Obviously, I don't do this either because I am not concerned with maintaining a fixed egg output.
Free-Range: While the USDA has defined the meaning of "free-range" for some poultry products, there are no
standards in "free-range" egg production. Typically, free-range egg-laying hens are uncaged inside barns or
warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access. They can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and
foraging. However, there is no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of outdoor access, or the
quality of the land accessible to the birds. There is no information regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting
and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
SAF- I meet this criteria. So technically my birds are "free range" Although it looks like there is not much enforcement
of this, so I am sure lots of folks paste a "free range" label on eggs that don't come from farms that meet this criteria.
Certified Humane*: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but may be kept indoors at all times. They
must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for
stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak
cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane
Farm Animal Care.
SAF- I meet this criteria.
Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as "cage-free" are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but
generally do not have access to the outdoors. They have the ability to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as
walking, nesting, and spreading their wings. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is
no third-party auditing.
Free-Roaming: Also known as "free-range," the USDA has defined this claim for some poultry products, but there are
no standards in "free-roaming" egg production. This essentially means the hens are cage-free. There is no third-party
SAF- I meet this criteria.
United Egg Producers Certified*: The overwhelming majority of the U.S. egg industry complies with this voluntary
program, which permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices. By 2008, hens laying these eggs will be
afforded 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive,
barren cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even
spreading their wings. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Forced molting through starvation is
prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. This is a program of the United Egg Producers.
SAF- My birds have 341 square inches of INDOOR area per bird (not in cages, this is a coop) and millions of square
inches of OUTDOOR area per bird (over an acre) and free movement between the two areas 24 hours a day. They have
all kinds of perches and areas to stomp around and them seem to like this. So this is significantly better than the bare
minimum requirements of the UEP.
Vegetarian-Fed: These birds' feed does not contain animal byproducts (unlike that consumed by most laying hens),
but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals' living conditions.
SAF- My birds eat all kinds of scraps so they are only mostly vegetarian, but not all. As mentioned here this is kind of a
pointless distinction. Also chickens are naturally omnivores so a pure vegetarian diet is not natural for them.
Natural: This label has no relevance to animal welfare.
SAF- This doesn't mean anything. It is marketing fluff.
Fertile: These eggs were laid by hens who lived with roosters, meaning they most likely were not caged.
SAF- I have no roosters, so my eggs are infertile. But this is irrelevant. Fertile eggs don't look, taste, smell, or have any
nutrional differences between non-fertile eggs. My vote is this is marketing fluff.
Omega-3 Enriched: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.
SAF- I don't know what this means. They probably put some extra Omega-3 supplements in the food. Probably
meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
With nearly no federal regulations to verify animal welfare claims on egg cartons, egg producers sometimes use written
claims or visual imagery on cartons that mislead consumers about how those eggs were produced. The Food and Drug
Administration is currently accepting public comments on a federal rule-making petition that would require producers
to fully disclose production methods on all egg cartons sold in the U.S., including the clear identification of "eggs from
caged hens." Mandatory labeling on egg cartons has already been implemented throughout the European Union.
Virtually all hens in commercial egg operations—whether cage or cage-free—come from hatcheries that kill all male
chicks shortly after hatching. The males are of no use to the egg industry because they don't lay eggs and aren't bred to
grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry. Common methods of killing male chicks include
suffocation, gassing and grinding. Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed at hatcheries each year in the United