Most Americans care about the welfare of farmed animals. Egg companies
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).
Sheila Rodriguez teaches Animal Law at Rutgers-Camden School of Law and can be reached at email@example.com.
Filed under: animal law, animal welfare | Tagged: animal cruelty, animal law, animal welfare, animal welfare standards, battery cages, egg production, factory farms, farmed animals, industrial farming |