Eggs (and poultry) may be labeled as "free-range" if they have USDA-certified access to the outdoors. No other criteria -- such as environmental quality, size of the outside area, number of birds, or space per bird -- are included in this term. Typically, free-range hens are debeaked at the hatchery, have only 1 to 2 square feet of floor space per bird, and -- if the hens can go outside -- must compete with many other hens for access to a small exit from the shed, leading to a muddy strip saturated with droppings. Although chickens can live up to 12 years, free-range hens are hauled to slaughter after a year or two, or . Free-range male chicks are trashed at birth, just as they are in factory farms. Although free-range conditions may be an improvement over factory-farm conditions, they are by no means free of suffering.
The Associated Press reported on March 11, 1998:
Free-range chickens conjure up in some consumers minds pictures of contented fowl strolling around the barnyard, but the truth is, all a chicken grower needs to do is give the birds some access to the outdoorswhether the chickens decide to take a gambol or stay inside with hundreds or thousands of other birds, under government rules growers are free to label them free-range.
As all free-range animals are still viewed as objects to be killed for food, they are subject to abusive handling, transport, and slaughter. Free-range animals, like all animals used for their milk and eggs, are still slaughtered at a fraction of their normal life expectancy.
Here is an example of one "free-range" farm:
The Alameda Times StarMay 28, 2003
How one egg farmer has gone cage-free for 20 yearsPetaluma's Mahrt wanted to make his mark in natural foods
"We're the original, free-ranging chicken people," says Mahrt, a former California Egg Commission chairman.
For more information, visit Compassion Over Killing