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Eggs: "Cage Free", "Free Range" or Caged…

PHOTO: A new federal bill would phase out "battery cages" and require labeling on all egg cartons. Courtesy of HSUS.
PHOTO: A new federal bill would phase out "battery cages" and require labeling on all egg cartons. Courtesy of HSUS.
May 17, 2013

PHOENIX – Cage-free, free range, pasture-raised or just eggs – a growing number of people are concerned with where and how their food is produced.

Now a new bill in Congress would make egg-labeling mandatory, as well as adding more humane living standards for millions of egg-laying hens in the U.S.

Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection with the Humane Society of the United States, says currently egg cartons do not have to be labeled for sale, and those that are labeled can be confusing.

He says nine out of 10 cartons are from hens that live in so-called battery cages.

"These are the cages that are so cramped that each bird has less space than a single sheet of paper on which to live for more than a year before she's slaughtered,” he says. “It really is difficult to imagine a more miserable existence."

Shapiro says egg-labeling options can include cage free, which means birds are able to stretch and are not in cages; free-range, which could mean hens have some outdoor access; and pasture-raised, which should mean that hens are laying eggs outside.

There currently are no industry rules and the living standards are not always clear. However, Shapiro says any of these options are preferable to battery cages, which have already been banned in the European Union.

The Humane Society and other groups such as the United Egg Producers are backing the bipartisan legislation that would ban battery cages and require labeling on egg cartons.

But not everyone wants to see it pass. Shapiro says both the beef and pork industries oppose it, while others claim it will raise egg prices.

"The economic research shows that the type of reforms that would be implemented through this bill are so modest,” Shapiro says, “and they take place over a number of years, which would make any economic impact quite minimal, perhaps about a penny per egg."

Congress this week took up the Farm Bill, which sets agricultural precedents for the next five years. Shapiro says his group hopes it includes rules for humane treatment of egg-laying hens and clear egg-carton labeling for consumers.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ