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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 20, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Whether they are called "cage-free," "free range," "pasture-raised" or just eggs, a growing number of people are concerned with where and how their food from chickens is produced. Legislation in Congress would make egg-labeling mandatory, as well as set new, more humane living standards for egg-laying hens.

Currently, egg cartons are not required to indicate how the hens are handled, and even when they do, the label can can be confusing, said Paul Shapiro with the Humane Society of the United States. He said nine out of 10 cartons are from hens that live in "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 explained. "It really is difficult to imagine a more miserable existence."

Egg-labeling options could include "cage free," meaning birds are able to stretch and are not in cages; "free-range," indicating that hens have some outdoor access; and "pasture-raised," which should mean that hens lay their eggs outdoors. Shapiro said any of those options is 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 (S 820 and HR 1731) that would ban battery cages and require labeling on egg cartons, but not everyone wants to see it pass. Shapiro said both the beef and pork industries oppose it. Other critics claim it would raise egg prices, which he denied.

"The economic research shows that the type of reforms that would be implemented through this bill are so modest, and take place over a number of years, so that any economic impact would be quite minimal - perhaps about a penny per egg," he said.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH