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Truth in Labeling: Questions About Egg Carton Labels

October 31, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It's a question that may never be answered, but animal-rights organizations are asking that the chickens come first when it comes to egg production.

With egg cartons now bearing descriptors like "natural eggs," "animal friendly" and "cage-free," animal-rights advocates are crying foul, pointing out that there is no government oversight to make sure these claims are true. The issue is particularly relevant in North Carolina, which has a large number of chicken farms.

John Baker is an egg farmer who has been raising free-range chickens since 1988.

"When you have this kind of trick with words, consumers get confused. They see something that says 'natural' on it and they think the chickens must be cage-free, maybe even organic, so they pick it up."

According to Compassion Over Killing (COK), 95 percent of the eggs produced in the United States come from chickens confined in wire battery cages. The group has petitioned the FDA to establish a market-wide regulation mandating the labeling of egg production methods on egg cartons.

Cheryl Leahy is an attorney for COK. She says it's time for the government to act.

"Without government standards in place, the egg labeling landscape is meaningless. Phrases like 'animal-friendly' and 'naturally-raised' can be used indiscriminately."

The use of battery cages for egg production will become illegal in the European Union beginning next year. Although the new cages will be slightly larger, several animal-rights groups continue to protest the upgraded cage.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC