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It can be tricky.
These days, egg cartons are emblazoned with claims like “cage-free”, “free-run”, and “free-range”. And these choices matter. Tragically, over 90 per cent of Canada’s egg-laying hens are confined in “battery cages” — small wire cubes housing five to seven birds each, beaks cut (to control damage from pecking their cage mates), stacked row upon row upon row in large, windowless barns.
Let’s put the chickens before the eggs. Here’s a quick guide to navigating egg carton labels from better to best choice:
“Cage-free” means hens are not confined to battery cages, but that’s about it. They don’t have access to the outdoors, and there are no assurances about what they are fed or what kinds of medications they are given. You might see this claim on all three types of non-battery cage production eggs — free-run, free-range and organic.
“Free-run” means chickens can move around in open concept barns, but they don’t necessarily have access to the great outdoors and overcrowding may still be an issue.
“Free-range” means hens see the light of day (depending on the weather) and their feet actually come in contact with the earth.
Organic eggs — your best choice!
Hens that produce certified organic eggs benefit from the highest welfare standards. For example, the SPCA Certified label assures eggs come from farms that have passed their animal welfare standards. Certified organic labels often require the use of organic feed without growth hormones or antibiotics, too.
Certification: numerous third-party labels