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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 15, 2013

NEW YORK - Whether they buy "cage-free," "free range," "pasture-raised" or just "eggs," a growing number of people are concerned with where and how their food is produced. 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 United States.

Egg cartons currently do not have to be labeled for sale, said Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, and those that are labeled can be confusing. 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 said. "It really is difficult to imagine a more miserable existence."

Shapiro said 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.

"Pasture-raised," which should mean that hens are laying eggs outside.

There are no current industry rules and the living standards are not always clear, but Shapiro said any of those options is preferable to battery cages, which already have 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. Not everyone wants to see it pass, however; Shapiro said 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, and they take place over a number of years, which would make any economic impact quite minimal," Shapiro said - "perhaps about a penny per egg."

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

The bills in Congress are S 820 and HR 1731.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NY