This series is designed to inform you, the consumer, about the terms used in the food industry. These terms are defined by the government and used by an industry. We want to make sure your perception of that term aligns with what the government defines and the picture the industry paints with words.
What does the labeling on your food actually mean and what are some of the pitfalls and misleading aspects of the system that allows “marketing” labeling as we will call it.
This is Part 1 of a series of informational articles to inform and assist those in making the best decisions for themselves and those in their lives when it comes to eating healthy.
In this article let us start with “cage free” and “free range”.
OK, let's pause for a minute. How exactly are most chickens in the U.S. produced?
According to groups that includes commercial chicken producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several universities, 95 percent of chickens in the U.S. come from chickens raised in something called battery cages. These cages house anywhere from four to 12 birds, giving each bird roughly 67 square inches of floor space (that's about the size of an iPad).
Come Jan. 1, though, eggs sold in California will have to come from chickens enjoying at least 116 square inches of space. (the size of a laptop)
The cages are stacked in long rows, inside massive barns that usually house tens of thousands of birds. They're typically fed a mixture of corn and feed made from animal byproducts.
Many animal welfare advocates believe these battery cage facilities are inhumane. The birds never go outside, are unable to spread their wings, and are essentially immobilized for their entire lives.
So what does “cage free” or “free range” mean when it comes to chicken production in the US?
Most people conjure up in their minds eye a free range or free roaming chicken as roaming through some large field with a large red barn in the background just scratching and pecking around the field while keeping an eye skyward for that menacing hawk.
Well, I hate to disappoint you with facts and the true picture. These phrases are a marketing gimmick designed to create a specific picture that satisfies the market demands for a humanely raised product.
The truth: They live in aviaries: massive industrial barns that house thousands of birds. Each bird has, on average, 1 square foot of space. One square foot……. That is a 12 inch by 12 inch space or 144 square inches.
She says cage-free birds have more feathers and stronger bones and exhibit more natural behaviors. But crowded aviaries also come with risks: reduced air quality, and twice the likelihood of dying. Over the course of their three-year study, less than 5 percent of birds in cages died, compared with more than 11 percent of cage-free birds. One of the most common causes of death was pecking by other chickens.
Pecking by chickens is can be attributed to a high stress environment.
This is a cage free chicken production facility:
Again, this is a marketing term designed to paint a picture in your mind’s eye. It, once again, is a response by the industry to create an image in your mind that is not the case in reality.
Free-range means cage-free plus "access to the outdoors." But as Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute notes, this "access" typically means a few small doors that lead to a screened-in porch with cement, dirt or a modicum of grass. And often, Kastel says, industrial fans that suck ammonia out of the building create "hurricane winds" through the small doorways, "and the birds don't really want to walk through that."
This is the USDA definition of Free Range or Free Roaming directly from the USDA website.
FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING:
Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
The definition states, "has been allowed access", that DOES NOT mean they ever went outside, it does not designate an amount of space for the chicken nor the other living conditions.
As you can tell, there are a lot of words and marketing phrases that have been created to answer the American consumers demand for a specific type of treatment or raising of the proteins they consume. Unfortunately, the government has created definitions that are misleading and create a false sense of comfort or security when purchasing these very products.
When purchasing food for you or your family, you must be informed.