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Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Does “Cage-Free” Really Mean?
By Cara McQuillen, EarthScope Intern (Tam High)
April 4, 2017

As people become more aware of the cruelties that farm animals endure on factory farms, they are choosing to buy products with labels such as “cage-free”, “grass-fed” and “free-range”. However, many of these labels are often misleading. “Cage-free” tends to imply that chickens are free to roam and are not confined to small spaces or that they aren’t mistreated. In reality, they live in conditions where they are “packed by the thousands into poorly ventilated, windowless warehouses”. They are packed so tightly may not be able to even spread their wings. Also, “cage-free” chickens go through something called de-beaking just like caged chickens. A section of their upper beak is removed all without any pain relief. 

While “cage-free” hens may not be kept in cages, they still often live in extremely confining indoor areas and suffer through some of the same inhumane treatments as caged hens. “Cage-free” hens are also often purchased from hatcheries. Since hatcheries have no use for male chickens, as they do not lay any eggs and they don’t grow large enough to be used for meat, they will kill the chickens as soon as they are born. 260 million male chickens are killed at hatcheries every year. After a few years, the chickens are sent to a slaughterhouse. Chickens and other poultry animals are not included in the federal Humane Slaughter Act and it is not mandatory that they are made unconscious before they are killed.

When many people see the label “free-range” they believe that they animal was given outdoor space to move about freely. Although “free-range” animals are required to have some amount of outdoor space, that space could be limited to tiny enclosed areas that they animals can not easily access. “USDA regulations do not specify the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access provided to “free-range” animals”. This means an animal could be packed incredibly tightly into a small space amongst thousands of others, but have an enclosed area outdoors and still be labeled as “free-range”.

People will often buy organic milk because it means it is free of antibiotics and hormones. However, it also does not allow the use of multiple medicines. This means many cows who get sick with illnesses that are normally very simple to cure, are not given any medicine to treat them.They are also often kept indoors for most of their life. Dairy cows also go through an endless cycle of impregnation and birth so that they can continue to produce milk.Immediately after birth, their babies are taken away. This is extremely stressful of the mother cow. The stress along with the extensive amounts of milk the cow is required to make causes her milk production to decrease after around five years, where she is sent to be slaughtered. The average life of a normal cow is about twenty years, while the average life of a dairy cow is about five years.

Although it is excellent that people are becoming more aware and concerned about the treatment of farm animals, many people still don’t know that “cage-free” or “free-range” animals are treated poorly as well. To learn more visit

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