Free Range Only: Putting Our Eggs in One Basket


At last, an endangered species that deserves to be – the battery hen.

Free range eggs may be significantly more expensive, but that’s not stopping shoppers plucking them from the shelves while turning their noses up at caged hen eggs.

This is yet another example of how ethical consumerism rules the roost in today’s marketplace (okay, enough with the chicken puns). Thanks to the hard work of people like British TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the patrons of the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, the appalling living conditions of caged hens is now common knowledge. The more the word gets out, the more unacceptable battery farming becomes. About time, too.

The Guardian reported May 15th that according to a leading market research firm, the number of free range eggs sold annually is likely to top 2 billion by the end of the year. This is largely thanks to the admirable stances adopted by major UK retailers including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, all of which have been have been officially labeled Good Eggs. They refuse to sell intensively produced eggs on principle, even bringing their phasing-out schedule forward to meet changing demand.

But all this raises an important question – can we really trust the free range label?

In the U.S., there’s no legal definition of a “free range egg” with obvious consequences. In the UK the legal ground is a lot firmer with the DEFRA Laying Hens Code (pdf), but this doesn’t always translate to what we might personally define as “free”. By both European and UK law, a free range chicken is one that has open-air access for at least half its life. And the rest of the time? There’s the worry. If you want a clearer conscience and a tastier omelet, keep an eye out for pastured eggs.

Free range eggs are the CFLs of the chicken world – a step in the right direction. For now, it’s good to know that chickens can finally see daylight, but it’s up to us as consumers to demand continued progress from our agricultural and political leaders if we’re to see truly sustainable, ethical living conditions for the animals we choose to raise for food.

Image: woodleywonderworks (and here’s why chicken eggs are different colors).

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4 thoughts on “Free Range Only: Putting Our Eggs in One Basket

  1. I don’t think that’s true at all — I think instead, people will in fact LOOK for Cali eggs because they have a guaranteed minimum standard that, say, eggs from Mexico don’t. As Mike’s post points out, people are looking for more eco-ethical eggs :)

    That said, I totally agree with you about buying eggs at the farmers’ market being the best choice :)

    green LA girl’s last blog post..Clicklist: Snarky recycling fun

  2. Only one little problem with Prop 2 – it doesn’t apply to eggs sold in the state, just those produced here. The end result of this legislation will be the gradual elimination of CA eggs from the mass market, to be replaced by eggs from Mexico and elsewhere. If the proposition had applied to eggs sold here, it would possibly have had an impact, but as it is it is going to have unintended consequences. If you really want to be sure your eggs are from chickens raised humanely, buy them at your local farmers market and ask the producer questions.

  3. One piece of good news for U.S. egg-eaters is the passage of Prop 2 in California — which means that come 2015 (I know — It seems like a long time away), all Cali chickens must at least be able to stand up and turn around. Not quite the same thing as free range, but a clear minimum standard — and a nice strong move away from battery cages —

    green LA girl’s last blog post..Tuesday questions: Mean comments

  4. Funny, I was just thinking last night what it would take to get American chicken farmers to convert to free range. What would the cost be? Like anything else, I guess they will conform once the market shows they have no other choice. Great post, Mike.


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