If you look at eggs for sale in the grocery store, you may notice many promises printed on the carton. Eggs are promised to be "Free Range" but there was always a loop hole. Those words did not quite mean what they seemed to mean. For example, free range did not necessarily mean those chickens spent their days wandering about lush pastures; it could have meant that they got to wander around a warehouse instead of being trapped in battery cages instead. The alternative free range was better, but still not true free ranging.
Because of this, consumer distrust has run rampant over the past several years as people have woken up and took notice of the things they are putting into their bodies. Seeing those words stamped on a carton of eggs was nice, or would have been nice had it meant something, but in truth it is only Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) that has created standards to define the terms you see stamped on their egg cartons. After a two year long review by the Scientific Committee of the HFAC, new standards are on the way to determine the meaning behind Certified Humane labels. This had led to a breakdown of the "Free Range" label into another segment, so "Free Range" is now accompanied by "Pasture Raised." To use any of these labels moving forward, producers must meet the requirements set forth for the label they wish to use.
While in the past the industry standard set forth by the USDA stated that birds be allowed outdoor access to be considered Free Range, that did not mean the entire bird had to be able to access the great outdoors. Simply being able to stick its head outside through a pop hole was good enough to be considered Free Range while the interior living space had no minimum space requirement thus allowing overcrowding of hen houses. Under the HFAC's Certified Humane "Free Range" standard, however, things are much different. There is a space requirement in place, requiring 2 square feet of space per bird and those birds must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day as long as weather and seasons allow. The definition of "Pasture Raised" will allow 108 square feet of space per bird on rotational fields with outdoor access year round and shelter provided for nightly roosting and inclement weather.
The HFAC has also has a standard for barn raised chickens who live and lay in barns. Those requirements include floor space for dust bathing, elevated perches as well as low-level perches with six inches of space per chicken, no animal byproducts or antibiotics, and clean air is required at fewer than 10 parts per million of ammonia. Cages are unacceptable and feeder/waterer space is regulated as well.
This is hopeful news. Perhaps the chicken industry is at long last going to take an overdue leap towards changing for the better. Both laying hens and the people who consume their eggs stand to benefit from such actions, so be on the lookout for those Certified Humane labels if you purchase eggs at your local grocer. We can only hope to see more developments such as this on the horizon sooner than later. I look forward to that with optimism renewed.