The words "cage-free," found on many egg cartons, suggest a certain life for the hens who laid those eggs. Many consumers, maybe even you, make the assumption that if those hens lived their lives "cage-free," they must have been outdoors, and are surprised to find out that isn't true. Some people might instead look for the words "free-range," hoping that means the hens were outside at least part of the time, or "pasture-raised," assuming that means the hens were outdoors all the time. But do those labels tell you that?
Should it be this hard to determine what the life of a laying hen was? Why aren't egg labels easier to understand?
In the latest episode of our podcast, "What You're Eating," we look closely at egg cartons and start digging into what all those labels mean. We talk to livestock policy whizzes, a grocery store logistics expert and a backyard hen enthusiast to find out the details of laying hens' lives: were they outside? Sometimes? What were they fed? How were they handled? Were they happy? Why do we care?
People are demonstrating, whether through the legislation they're voting for, like Propositions 2 and 12, or through the purchases they're making, that animal welfare is a concern for them. An ASPCA survey of 1,000 people in August 2020 found that 72% of them who recently heard about animal welfare issues (among other issues) on factory farms, were seeking out alternatives, including by shifting to products with more assurance of animal welfare. But to make changes like this, we need to have confidence that labels actually mean what they say.