Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Egg Labels: What Does Cage Free or Free Range Mean?

I spent time reviewing my old posts and seeing which were popular. First of all, thank you for your support in visiting my blog and referring it to people you know. Nothing is quite as inspiring for a writer as having regular readers from around the world. Second, I saw my post on food labels garnered a lot of views. So, this week I'm writing more about deceptive food labels commonly found with eggs and poultry.

Be You, But Be Informed

Normally during topics like these, you'll end up seeing pictures of chickens crammed in cages, or videos exposing unethical farming practices. But I'm not about that. If I wanted you to cry, I'd post pictures like this, instead.

If I had a heart, it would break for this puppy.
It's not my business what you buy or eat, so I have no reason to persuade you. Personally, I avoid eggs, but that's because I think they taste icky.

What I can't stand is misleading advertising. So often people get caught up spending extra money on what they think is "green" or "environmentally responsible," only to get scammed. It's important to know what these labels mean, because if you don't, you might pay more for something that's not actually better.

Make any decisions you want, but be informed. It is my semi-professional responsibility that my readers can't say, "Gee, I sure wish JunkfoodRehab had said something about "All Natural, Cage-Free, Corn-Fed" chicken breasts before I paid an extra dollar for plain, old chicken."

Not that anyone would really say that, but, you know, I've got to have standards.

The Power of Advertising

There's a reason why our memories only go back to when we were old enough to talk - words allow us to perceive, interpret and categorize the external universe and our internal psyche. Without them, we would be unable to differentiate any experience, and our lives would be reduced to random sensations of pain and pleasure, spread across a long period of time, with no rhyme nor reason.

Put simply, if our minds were Lego castles, words would be the bricks.

So. Many. Words.
Now, if everything we know and believe is built of words, what power does that give to marketers who specialize in wordcraft? Someone skilled with language could have you believe that Old Spice makes men attractive.

Yes, I know the point of this commercial makes fun of the idea that Old Spice makes you manly. But think of it this way: if someone told you not to think of a purple giraffe in a top hat, what's the first thing you think of? A purple giraffe in a top hat!

(Believe it or not, I couldn't find a picture for this one...)

So by telling us clearly that Old Spice won't make us look like the attractive spokesman, but then showing 20 seconds of hyper-masculine activity, we'll still associate "manliness" with "Old Spice" even though we were told not to. It's like a Jedi mind trick!

The power doesn't come from the words themselves, but the ideas we have attached to these words. If I say the word "natural," you might think of several things: you might think of a nature reserve, a waterfall, or a green meadow. You might also think of the opposite word, "artificial," which you might view as negative. And  since "natural" is now the opposite of negative, that means natural is a good thing, right?

In truth, as I wrote in my earlier post, "natural" means next to nothing on food labels. All it means is that the food has no preservatives, food dyes, or artificial flavors. But instead of saying, "No preservatives, food dyes, or artificial flavors," advertisers stick the word "Natural" on their products to make us think of serene and happy scenes that make us feel better about the product.

Hey, maybe I should try this...

This blog is "All Natural," "Environmentally Responsible" and hilarious.
...Not working? Darn. 

The Labels

Time to get the purple, top-hatted giraffe out of the room. Here's what the labels mean on your eggs and poultry products!


Though unregulated by the USDA, "cage-free" means that the chicken was not kept in a cage (duh.) This does not mean the chicken has ever stepped outdoors, however. Cage-free chickens can be kept their entire lives in barns or other buildings.


Regulated only for meat-producing chickens and not egg-laying ones, "free-range" means that chickens have access to the outdoors. This outdoor access could vary from an open farm-door leading to a large pen to a doggy-door leading out to a blanket-sized plot of grass. This does not guarantee that the chicken ever used that outdoor opportunity.

Hormone Free

Because of some geo-political snafus about the United States "magically" flooding the global market with a wave of cheap chicken, the US Federal Government was pressured to outlaw hormone use on poultry in the 1960s. If you see this label, the company is trying pass off their product as "special," even though it's only adhering to the law. It's like an 8-pack Crayola crayon box claiming, "Now with the color 'Blue!'"


I saw this label on a premium-priced chicken breast a year ago and was flabbergasted. The standard diet for chickens and hens is usually silage, otherwise known as corn-feed. All chickens are raised on corn because it's the cheapest source of nutrition available for animals. In fact, if you don't check the labels on your dog or cat food, chances are your house pets have been living off high-corn diets too!

Omega-3 Enriched

Eggs used to get a bad rap for their cholesterol content. If someone with heart-problems wanted to stay healthy, they were often told to avoid eggs. To combat this stigma, egg companies have started feeding hens flax seed and fatty fish to supplement their Omega-3 - a popular nutrient that is important for total body health. But if you really wanted Omega-3, why not just eat the fish and flax yourself? To expect it from eggs is like buying a soda at a restaurant because you want the water from the ice cubes.

United Egg Producers Certified

Although this labels looks official, eggs containing this label could have been laid by hens that are caged. The practices allowed under this label don't comply with many purported "humane" treatments for chickens.

Certified Humane

The chickens are raised without cages, without antibiotics, and are given spaces to perform natural actions like nesting. Do NOT confuse this label with "American Humane Certified" which allows for hens to be caged.

Animal Welfare Approved

One of the highest standards of chicken-living, "animal welfare approved" provides chickens with as natural an environment as possible, leaving them cage-free, untreated with antibiotics, with regular access to the outdoors.

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