Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Cartons should be Regulated

Sheila Rodriguez

Most Americans care about the welfare of farmed animals. Egg companies

Image courtesy of Compassion Over Killing

know that, and many market their eggs with labels claiming the hens were treated well. What consumers don’t know is that many of the animal welfare claims on egg cartons are meaningless.

In my article, The Morally Informed Consumer: Examining Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Labels, I argue that egg consumers have a right to know how hens are raised. Most hens are packed eight or nine birds to a cage. The cages are so small that hens are unable to stretch a wing. The overcrowding causes them to fight, so their beaks are cut off to prevent them from injuring other birds. The fewer than 5% of eggs in theU.S. that are not produced under these conditions are from hens that were not even allowed outside.

Many of the production method claims made by egg producers cannot be accurately verified. Industry standards are factory farmed standards.  Federally-verified claims made under the National Organic Program, though comprehensive, are problematic because of lax enforcement. Private programs that verify the conditions under which hens are raised offer limited hope: two of the three main programs use animal welfare guidelines similar to industry standards. Moreover, eggs certified under these programs are typically more expensive and can be difficult for consumers to find.

Claims such as “natural,” “no antibiotics used,” and “no hormones administered” have no relevance to animal welfare. And while the terms “free-range” and “free-roaming” frequently appear on egg cartons, these are claims that apply to poultry, or birds raised for their meat, not to birds raised for their eggs.

Perhaps most important, consumers need to understand that “cage-free” hens are a subset of factory farmed production. Even small farms that do not raise hens under industrial production standards purchase their birds from factory-farm hatcheries.

Animal welfare claims on egg labels should be regulated to ensure accuracy. Until then, consumers should avoid purchasing most eggs.

The Morally Informed Consumer: Examining Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Labels,

30 Temp. J. Sci. Tech. & Envtl. L. 51 (2011).

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1955242

                                                                                                                                               

 Sheila Rodriguez teaches Animal Law at Rutgers-Camden School of Law and can be reached at sheilaro@camden.rutgers.edu.

5 Responses

  1. In an ideal world, if you want eggs, you would keep your own chickens, and thus have direct control over how they were treated.

  2. Their claim of treating chickens or other farm animals well contradicts the slaughtering of same. Their short lives are anything but a walk in the park as they are nothing more than food that has no feeling, fear, stress or other so-called emotions which, we are told, are only reserved for human animals!

  3. Since I’ve shared my home with a small flock of (rescued) hens – I believe I’ve almost become an “expert” on egg cartons. I don’t eat the eggs – And my husband rarely does – So that leaves us sharing with most of the neighbors… They bring old cartons in exchange for a full one. The assortment is astounding… Most are “cage free” as these nice folks are trying to do their best at being ethical. Little did they know before they encountered me and the stories I’ve managed to set straight.

    Even the basic “factory farm/battery cage” cartons give the illusion of some kind of seal of “approval” in the way these hens are “cared” for. A big red check mark says: Everything’s OKay! And most people go unaware of the illusions and the bitter cruelty of reality. It’s all a ruse! The whole egg, chicken industry ought to be shamed out of business!

  4. we should always promote the rights of animals and animal welfare at the same time.”

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  5. […] pollution is illegal? Cage-free hens are contented animals? Climate change is threatening the United States with more […]

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