What Do Cage Free and Free Range Actually Mean? And Which is Better?

May 1, 2020

Product labeling is a bit of a troubled concept today. As with many things in this world, when certain people and corporations figured out they could increase their profits by simply using certain words on their packaging, they milked it for all it’s worth. It’s really no longer are secret that terms like “natural” and “organic” have been abused and manipulated to the point that consumers feel they can no longer trust them. This is particularly prevalent with eggs. And most often, when a consumer comes in contact with a product at a grocery store, they can’t deduct any further information beyond what’s on the packaging. So, to be in that situation and know that there’s a good chance the labels are lying to you in some way and you don’t have a trusted source to turn to is just downright unfair. Consumers should NOT be treated that way or taken advantage of.

At Dutch Meadows, you of course don’t always have the chance to see the farmers face to face, unless you’re visiting our store, but we do stay alert to customer questions via phone calls and emails as much as we possibly can. We also have our protocols listed on our website with clear descriptions of what each one means, and if you suspect we’re leaving something out, you can ask us, the ones doing the work directly, and we guarantee 100% transparency about all our methods and operations. In fact, once you visit the protocol page, you can even choose to view products filtered by any of the terms, such as:

In the meantime, between keeping the store stocked, the animals cared for, our farm families properly managed, and answering direct calls from the customer, we try to make our Blog a source of valuable on-demand information as well. So, in that spirit, today we thought it’d be a good idea to run through egg labels.

The unfortunate truth is that the vast number of terms on egg carton labels that can leave grocery shoppers feeling dazed and confused. Some labels indicate that the eggs inside are “Natural,” while others boast “Free-range” or even “Certified Organic.”

Some reading this may wonder, “why do all the details matter?”

We’ve found the best way to explain the importance of a responsible food system is to put it side by side with things people typically already feel tied to and responsible for in their own lives, like parenting. If you put little to no effort and care into raising a human, that human will have a hard time producing positive, good energy and experiences as they grow older. Simply put, good in = good out. The same is true with your health and with animal health. If animals are not treated properly (and there is still a lot of debate around what’s the proper way to raise animals for food) then they won’t mature properly, if you consume animal products that are far from a happy and healthy state, then you’re not consuming proper and natural nutrients. If you don’t put those good elements in your body, you can’t generate as much good. See the cycle?

We have a few different types of layers (hens and ducks), as well as variations within those breeds (soy-free, corn-free, etc.), but they are all raised in open pastures and fed no hormones, no antibiotics, and are not genetically modified in any way.

Cage free is one term you really want to watch out for. It does NOT mean the birds have access to the outdoors. In addition, the following terms have NO relevance to animal welfare, health, or humane protocols whatsoever:

  • Farm fresh
  • Fertile
  • Vegetarian fed
  • Omega-3 enriched
  • Pasteurized

To make matters worse, many large egg producers remove parts of hens’ beaks in the first few days of life. Some starve their birds to force molting (loss of feathers) to manipulate the laying cycle. And virtually all commercial operations are supplied by hatcheries that kill male chicks shortly after hatching (typically by grinding them alive), since they don't lay eggs and aren't bred to grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry.

As we mentioned from the beginning, and as we’re sure you recognize from the media and other food information sources, there are a lot of terms and researching to keep straight and it really shouldn’t be your job to do so. This is why we are proud to be able to offer a direct line from us to the consumer for any questions or concerns that you may have. We know this stuff. We live it. We’re honest, hard working people. We want for our neighbors just as we want for ourselves - the very best. It’s that simple.

As always, we wish you many blessings and good health!

Dave Stoltzfus

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