You are hereExposing The "Cage-Free" Myth
Exposing The "Cage-Free" Myth
Since I started writing"Meat-Wise Monday," I've had a few people proudly tell me that they only buy cage-free eggs and free-range poultry. My response has been to ask them what exactly they think cage-free and free-range mean. As I expected, all of them had images in their heads of green pastures, with plump, clucking chickens running about, and big, red barns in the back drop. Okay, so not all of them described the barn, I just thought it fit with the images they'd created. Anyway, after realizing the knowledge deficit that exists surrounding the definition of the terms free-range and cage-free, I decided to devote this edition of "Meat-Wise Monday" to dispelling the myth behind them. A myth, perpetuated by the meat industry, that provides consumers with a false sense of comfort regarding the care and consideration of chicken and other poultry on factory farms.
Let me begin by citing the USDA's definition of the terms. First, there is no legal definition for the term "cage-free." The USDA has no regulatory policy regarding cage-free eggs. Usually, cage-free eggs are ones that come from hens that, instead of being kept in overcrowded cages, are housed in large overcrowded sheds. Typically, there are so many birds packed in one of these sheds that the hens are unable to flap their wings. These birds still have their beaks cut off with a hot blade and no pain killers. They live in sheds soaked with urine and shuffle around in their own feces. Most often, sick birds are left to die because they receive no veterinary care (providing veterinary care costs the farmer more than replacing the bird does). After they've died, their corpses are left to rot in the shed alongside the egg-laying hens that provide the consumers with cage-free eggs.
Unlike the term "cage-free," the USDA does have a requirement that must be met in order to earn the certification of "free-range." According to USDA policy, in order to be certified as free-range, birds must be raised with access to the outdoors and provided a traditional high-protein diet. The policy states that the birds may be temporarily confined for reasons of health, safety, the animal's stage of production, or to protect soil or water quality. For many free-range chickens, the access to the outdoors they receive is when they are transported to the windowless chicken sheds and then again when they are removed from the shed for slaughter. The USDA offers no specifications as to how much outdoor exposure the birds must receive nor is there any way to enforce such a requirement even if it was mandated. Also, it is important to note that male chickens born on cage-free or free-range farms suffer the same fate as the ones born in the battery cages, that is, the male chickens are killed because they cannot lay eggs and are of no use to egg-producing farmers. The male chickens are usually killed in one of three ways- They are crushed to death, literally, like the way my brother used to squash aluminum cans. They are thrown in large plastic bags and suffocated to death. Or, they are thrown, still alive, into a grinder to be processed as feed.
So what's a consumer supposed to do if she doesn't want to give up eggs but doesn't want to support the cruel industry of factory egg production? Find a local farmer. Go see the chickens who'll provide you with your eggs. See where they're housed, what kind of physical condition they're in, if their beaks are intact or have been cut off. By the way, farmers trim the beaks of chickens because when kept in such unnaturally close quarters, the chickens will peck each other to death. If you visit a farm and the chickens have had their beaks trimmed, go somewhere else. Most importantly, do your own research. The facts are out there, you just have to want to find them.
Cynthia Bateman blogs regularly on Blog About It
[Publisher's Note: Cynthia Bateman's Meat-Wise Monday is featured on The Truth Pursuit every Monday]