Cage-Free vs. Free-Range: The Truth Behind Eggs and Confusing Terminology

"Free-range eggs" doesn't exactly mean chickens can roam freely.
"Free-range eggs" doesn't exactly mean chickens can roam freely.

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I always buy cage-free or free-range eggs, mainly because when I see the labels "cage-free" or "free-range," I imagine a bunch of chickens roaming freely in the fields and enjoying life. It makes me feel like a good person for purchasing eggs that come from chickens that live life outside a constraining cage.

However, a documentary created last year (nominated in the PBS Online Film Festival), "The Story of an Egg," reveals the truth behind these terms, which don't mean what you think they would.

Pasture-raised chickens can roam fields freely.
Pasture-raised chickens can roam fields freely.

This six-minute video uncovers the truth behind the terms "cage-free" and "free-range." Although eggs labeled cage-free come from chickens not living in cages, the alternative living environment isn't necessarily any better.

The problem with this definition is that it doesn't explain the chickens' living conditions; it only tells you where they aren't living, rather than where they are. It is great that cage-free eggs come from chickens not living in cages. However, the lack of description of their current living environment is misleading to the public. Yes, they are not constrained in tiny cages where they can't move around, but now they are crammed into a warehouse without room to move. Doesn't sound any better to me than living in a cage.

Free-range is also a highly misleading label. If you ask anyone what he thinks the definition of "free-range chicken" is, he will most likely say it means that the chickens can freely roam outside. Unfortunately, this is incorrect. Contrary to the majority belief, free-range chickens simply have to have access outside, and this access outside is not as big as you would expect it to be. In fact, there isn't a standard size to the outdoor access or even a standard length of time chickens can be outside.

Story of an Egg offers an alternative to these misleading labels: "pasture-raised," which means exactly what it says. Chickens living in a pasture. Not in a cooped-up cage, not in a crammed warehouse and not with limited access to the outdoors. The video predicts that this term will catch on with more farmers across the country.

And as this practice catches on with more producers and consumers, perhaps more chickens will have the opportunity to live outside and actually roam the pastures.

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