“Cage Free” Is a Myth: What You Need to Know

Create a small buying group with some friends and buy products together from small farms to make sure your food is ethically raised.

The Animal Welfare Approved group helps you find responsibly raised chickens in your area. By: StevenW.

Look, I’m not going to mince words here. I am disgusted by American factory farmers.

I just read the highlights of the latest report by Farm Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to compassionate living. The report, “The Truth Behind the Labels: Farm Animal Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices,” exposes the inhumane standards of care that many farm animals are subjected to every day.

There is the usual material — animals being cruelly slaughtered — but the section I found most compelling was about labeling standards.

“Cage Free” Is a Myth

Turns out, “Cage Free” isn’t really free at all, according to the report:

“The Farmers are not required to provide ‘cage free’ laying hens with access to the outdoors. Often, hens are crowded by the thousands into large barns where each bird is allotted approximately one square foot of space.”

I thought that I was buying the right eggs from healthy, happy birds. I thought my money was going to support responsible farming, where animals have all the space to roam and fresh air they need. Instead, I was taken advantage of by people who wanted to sell the idea of responsible farming.

Well, no more.

The Farm Sanctuary report defines all labels so consumers can make informed choices. It also clarifies who is responsible for giving these labels and exactly where USDA labels and standards fall short of protecting both humans and animals from the devastating effects of factory farming.

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Standards to Improve Animal Health and Welfare

The most stringent standards are held by Animal Welfare Approved.

Started in 2006, this group hopes to move beyond a few rules and basic standards for farming to adopt a philosophical stance that animal health and welfare are forever linked to the health and welfare of humans. These standards are the only ones that require animals to be raised outdoors — not just given part-time access.

The Animal Welfare Approved website allows you to search for responsible farmers, stores and farms nearby. Being a New Yorker, I immediately searched for some in NYC. There are plenty more listings, but here are 2:

1. Greenmarket at Union Square
Union Square, Manhattan
East 15th Street & Union Square West

Grazin’ Angus Acres sells Animal Welfare Approved beef and eggs at this farmers’ market in Union Square on Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, Consider Bardwell Farm sells AWA goat cheese here on Mondays.

2. Jeffrey’s Grocery
Greenwich Village, Manhattan
172 Waverly Place

This store offers Animal Welfare Approved pork products and eggs from Old Field Farm.

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Other Ways to Make a Difference

If there isn’t a farm or store near you, get creative — find the closest one to you and give those folks a call. See if they will start delivering to your area or if they sell products online.

Watch these chickens exist happily at a responsible farm that cares about their welfare:

Tell your friends and place an order together. A farm may not deliver a dozen eggs, but it might deliver 10 dozen for a reasonable price. Often these smaller farms raise more than 1 animal, so find out if you can make a large order of eggs, cheese, meat or other products.

For information about how to start a food co-op or buying group, try this page: Food Co-ops Toolkit.

The idea is that, through a food co-op or buying group, you can get better prices by ordering large quantities and have more control over where your food comes from.

Sarah Blakemore

View posts by Sarah Blakemore
Sarah Blakemore has been researching and writing about pet care and pet behaviors since 2007. She has cared for many pets over the years and has volunteered with several animal shelters around the world.

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