In recent years, the phrase “free-range” almost seems to mean “All good to go here, folks!”
But there’s just one teeny bit of problem with that.
While free-range eggs, for example, do follow much higher standards than cage or barn eggs, earning a label doesn’t necessarily mean an egg purveyor respects the highest good. Not when it comes to chicken welfare. Not when it comes to the environment. And not when it comes to your family’s nutrition.
As Make It Possible points out, “There is no doubt that consumer awareness and concern about the lives led by animals raised for food is on the rise. Ethical concerns are playing an increasingly important role in purchasing decisions.”
Which is wonderful, except for their follow-up point: “It seems that egg producers — perhaps more than any other — have responded to this trend by adding an abundance of confusing claims on egg cartons.”
That doesn’t help you make the right decisions, does it? If anything, it confuses the issue further as consumers can’t tell whether or not manufacturers actually meet ethical guidelines such as those set out by the RSPCA.
If you’re right there with other consumers who want to make the ethical choice but aren’t sure how, don’t feel bad. Labeling laws can be vague and confusing, and even recent efforts to create much clearer standards may not bring the changes we all hope for. Let’s take these issues and address them one at a time so you can learn more and know where to get healthy eggs from happy free-range hens.
Let’s start with the definition of free-range, which just this year got a major makeover. According to ABC News, the new definition free-range eggs come from hens that have “meaningful and regular access” to an outdoor area with room enough to roam and forage, at a maximum density of 10,000 hens per hectare — the equivalent of one chook per square metre.
Admittedly, this definition is better than the current definition in the United States, where free-range simply means access to the outdoors. As in…there is a door somewhere. And sometimes chickens go through it. To a yard of undetermined size and quality.
Given the tightly packed conditions of most barns, however, that option may not be much more meaningful than barn eggs (which are laid in an enclosed space without a door).
Even here in Australia, though, the definition doesn’t go beyond the relatively murky “meaningful and regular” and hen density standards, both of which are still too low and too unspecific for the RSPCA’s tastes.
While setting such standards for free-range chickens is certainly an improvement, the RSPCA believes these decrees are still too loose. Just as 28 percent of consumers don’t believe eggs labeled free-range would meet their expectations of free-range conditions, the RSPCA believes the label misleads consumers into thinking hen welfare in such conditions is better than it actually is.
For one thing, stocking density is still too high for hens to have a truly free experience. Instead of 10,000 hens per hectare, the RSPCA demands that free-range stocking capacity should be 1,500 or 2,500 with a rotation system. That means six times the amount of space each hen would get under the current definition or four times the amount as long as the operation rotated its hens frequently. Also, “meaningful” outdoor time requires protected outdoor areas and dustbathing pits so that chooks can do what chooks do and feel secure doing it.
What’s the difference? Simple:
Plus, such operations encourage the symbiotic relationship between animals and land. Instead of producing ammonia-heavy environments where waste becomes an issue, chicken waste nourishes grasses and forage year after year. Virtuous cycles rule, don’t they?
Here at Happy Chicken Eggs, we do more than produce a great-tasting egg for all your omelet, muffin, and soufflé needs. We also give laying hens the happiest possible existence, with robust attention to their physical, mental, and social needs. In other words, we are more than free-range, just as the RSPCA advises.
The reason we go above and beyond through hen play areas, dust baths, and more, not to mention nutrient-dense eggs that feed your family right is that we believe all animals have a right to joy. No species should have a corner on the market of waking up happy each morning, forming meaningful bonds with other members of the species, learning and roaming and enjoying all there is to experience in life.
In addition to being RSPCA approved, we also meet standards set by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Choice code of practice and customer expectations. Plus, we have 25 percent less hen density than other non-RSPCA approved farms, and we never debeak.
Overall? Well, we raise dang happy chickens who produce dang yummy eggs, with higher nutritive values for your fam, and we’re dang proud of it. If you ever want to learn more about how we work, please get in touch with us! We’d love to tell you more about our joyful little ladies today.