Category Archives: Free Range

Free Range: Not As Free As You Think

Anyone that thinks the 285 million caged hens in America are experiencing anything less than torture is fooling themselves. After learning about the cruelty and destruction caused by the egg industry, many people think that free-range, cage-free, or organic are the solution to the problem, but free-range isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Battery Cage Hens

Each of these terms – free-range, cage-free, and organic – invokes a positive image of sunshine, grass, and open spaces, but this is far from reality.

“The waiter said, ‘All of our chicken is free-range.’ And I said, ‘He doesn’t look very free there on that plate.’”  – Joe Bob Briggs

The official regulation for “free-range” is that the birds have “access to the outdoors.”  So, often times, there is only a single, small door in the shed (packed with thousands of hens), which leads to a concrete patch or manure field, in some cases it is only opened for about 5 minutes per day, and only a few number of hens even realize that the door exists.  These chickens and eggs earn the free-range label.  There are absolutely no regulations on the amount of space per bird, the environmental conditions (concrete vs. grass), or the amount of time spent outdoors (if any).

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel . Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means.”  -Wikipedia

The difference between free-range and cage-free is simply a door.  Cage-free hens are not confined to wire cages, but there is no door leading to the outdoors in their hen-houses.  They are over-crowded into dark sheds filled with toxic fumes (from waste) and rampant disease.

Cage Free Chickens

Organic does not indicate a lack of cages.  It only means that the hens are not fed antibiotics or hormones, and they eat organic corn. Organic eggs can come from battery caged hens.

Free-range, cage-free, and organic hens are typically de-beaked just as battery cage hens. And although chickens live for 7-15 years, free-range, cage-free, and organic hens are brutally slaughtered at age 1-2.


Male chicks, under any label (free-range, cage-free, organic), are considered useless  and are immediately killed by either suffocation, electrocution, gassing, or are ground up alive. No federal laws protect chickens from abuse under any label.

Live male chicks thrown in a trash can. The trash bag will be tied shut and the chicks are left to suffocate in the bag.

Male chicks thrown in a trash can. The trash bag will be tied shut and the chicks are left to suffocate in the bag.

You can show compassion by avoiding eggs.

Breakfast: Two bananas
Lunch: Veggie sub from Harris Teeter (another one of my usuals) – lettuce, tomato, olives, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, pickles, vinegar and oil, oregano, on a whole wheat sub
HT sandwich
Dinner: Nachos with black beans and Daiya vegan cheese

Buzz Words

It is difficult to reject industrialized farming practices when we don’t understand what we’re buying. The educated consumer can put their money where their values lie.

Organic – Certainly this is the biggest buzz word in the supermarket today, yet most people don’t even know what it means. Most basically, ‘organic’ means that fruits & veggies were grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation, and that meat, dairy, and eggs are from animals that were not given antibiotics, growth hormones, or “animal protein products” (aka feeding dead animals back to live animals).

However, not all organics are created equal. The USDA (who wants their farmers to profit) has 3 official categories of ‘organic’:

100% Organic – All ingredients were raised/harvested in a fully organic way

Organic – Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients – Made with at least 74% organic ingredients and restrictions on the remaining 26%, including no genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

It is important to realize that ‘organic’ does NOT indicate grass-fed or free-range. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy sold at large-scale suppliers (like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, HEB, etc) are most often fed a diet of organic corn and raised in CAFO-like conditions (many animals crammed into a small space, etc).

At the beginning of the organic movement, organic was hyped as better for the environment, however this is now hotly debated. Most research suggests that organic agriculture has marginally lower carbon emissions than conventional methods, but the results depend on the crop, the soils, and the skill of the farmer.

The quality of organic foods over conventional foods is another debated issue. Some studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels of vitamins and nutrients, but there are also claims that this is not true.

Grass-Fed – This one, at its basics, is fairly self-explanatory: the animal is fed grass, not corn. Because the animal is eating what it was designed to eat, the meat and dairy products produced from grass-fed animals is healthier for you. There is no debate about this. It has less total fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, and fewer calories. It is richer in antioxidants including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and richer in healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids.

However, ‘grass-fed’ does NOT indicate ‘organic’. These animals could still be treated with antibiotics, hormones, or may be eating grass treated with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. At local farmers’ markets, this is generally not the case, but at grocery stores, check for both ‘grass-fed’ and ‘organic’ labels just to be sure. The USDA is currently working on official regulations for ‘grass-fed’ product labeling.

Vegetarian-fed – Indicates that the animal was not fed rendered “animal protein products.” This does NOT indicate ‘organic’ nor ‘grass-fed’.

Natural – One of the biggest marketing ploys out there. Many people associate ‘natural’ with ‘organic’ or ‘grass-fed’. Don’t fall for it! Most ‘natural’ products do not contain synthetic ingredients, but there are no regulations on what can be labeled ‘natural,’ they’re just trying to leech on to the organic movement by confusing consumers.

Free Range/Cage-Free – Another deceiving term. Do not be fooled into thinking these animals live on an open field. The USDA does not have any regulations on ‘free range’ labeling, except with regards to poultry. The official USDA regulations on ‘free range’ poultry state that the chickens must have “access to the outdoors” to be labeled free range. Unfortunately, this leads to farmers having a small door in their chicken coop, that they admit is kept closed for the beginning of the chicken’s life and only opened after the chickens are used to being crammed in the hen house, so they don’t even try to go outside once it’s opened. And this is labeled ‘free-range.’ Similarly, ‘cage-free’ may indicate a lack of wire mesh, but the animals are still crammed far too many to a coop.

For beef, pork, and other non-poultry, there is absolutely no criteria, and the USDA relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims.” Uh, right. Once again, claims of free-range and cage-free are much more believable at a local farmer’s market, than in the grocery store.

Buyers beware.