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Truth in Labeling: Questions about Egg Carton Labels

November 1, 2011

BOSTON - 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 including claims such as "natural," "animal-friendly" and "cage-free," animal-rights advocates are crying foul. No government oversight ensures that those claims are true, they say.

Egg farmer John Baker has been raising free-range chickens since 1988.

"When you have these kind of tricks with words, consumers get confused, and they see something that says 'natural' on it and they think, 'Well, heck, they must be cage-free. Maybe it's even organic.' So, they pick it up."

According to the group Compassion Over Killing, 95 percent of the eggs produced in the United States come from chickens confined in wire battery cages. The group has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to establish a marketwide regulation mandating how egg production methods are described on the egg carton labels.

Cheryl Leahy, an attorney for Compassion Over Killing, 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. The new cages will be slightly larger, although several animal-rights groups continue to protest the upgraded cage.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MA