There’s No Free (Range) Lunch

One of the things that I discovered after starting to read vegan literature is that "free range" doesn't mean what I thought it did. Before going vegan, I used to buy eggs marked "free range" or "cage free" -- and I felt pretty good about that. In my mind, I was eating what was basically a waste product (an unfertilized egg), produced by a chicken that was living a pretty good life. As conventional wisdom holds, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Many people believe that egg production is less abusive to chickens than other factory farming processes, and therefore a vegetarian diet is an acceptable way to boycott animal cruelty. Well, here's some more food for vegetarian thought:

  • In the U.S. there are no laws or government standards regulating the use of free-range, free roaming, or free-walking on egg cartons.
  • Free-range simply means the birds are uncaged. This does not necessarily mean the birds have access to the outdoors. There is no industry standard defining how free-range hens are to be housed.
  • Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed where the hens are kept.
  • It is common for free range hens to be debeaked, the practice of severing the tip of the sensitive beak, without anesthesia. This is done to reduce stress-pecking and fighting due to overcrowding.
  • it is common for free range hens to be "force molted," a standard commercial practice in which food is withheld from hens for up to two weeks to induce egg production.
  • Egg-laying chickens don't grow fast enough to be raised profitably for meat, so the male chicks are killed upon hatching. Typically they are ground up or suffocated.
  • "Spent" hens (those which no longer produce enough eggs) are thrown into small crates and trucked to the slaughterhouse without any protection from the elements, often traveling hundreds of miles without food or water. They often suffer from broken wings and legs, and many die from the stress of the journey.
  • And finally, their legs are snapped into shackles, their throats are cut, and they are immersed in scalding hot water to remove their feathers. Chickens and other birds are exempt from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, so most are still conscious when their throats are cut open, or are still alive when they reach the feather-removal tanks and wind up being scalded to death.

And I haven't even talked about the rampant salmonella.

It's like what your parents always said, there's no such thing as a free (range) lunch.


  1. How disgusting – they obviously know how wrong what they do is or they wouldn’t mislabel their products. I just don’t understand who could have started this practice and not been overwhelmed with guilt. šŸ™ Sad.

  2. If you want eggs raise your own chickens. They make lovely pets and are very smart animals. My grandfather always had a few little chickens in his yard. He always let the little hens keep some eggs and have chicks too. He said they needed to care for young to be happy. I guess I would be mad if someone took my babies too! But for me, I would just let them keep all of their eggies.

  3. Hi Chrissy,
    Agreed. And this is terribly sad. And now that these practices are commonplace in the industry, I’m sure there’s no thought to whether they’re ethical or not. I’m also fairly certain that there is no economic incentive to make this better.

    Hi Autumn,
    Jane’s grandparents had a farm too and one of her earliest memories is of visiting them and collecting the eggs for breakfast. Of course, now that we’re vegan… no eggs. But that was a far cry from how most people get their eggs today.

  4. In addition to the cruelties and injustices of “free range” egg production that you listed, I would add this: Modern laying hens have been bred to lay to 10 times the amount of eggs laid by their wild ancestors. Their bodies get no rest. Forgive the indelicate analogy but it’s like forcing a woman – without her knowledge or consent – to have a period every three days.

    Producing an egg requires resources and energy from the hen’s body. The enormously high egg production volume that humans have forced upon modern hens robs the hens of calcium and other nutrients. Many develop weak bones and other health problems as a result.

    It is virtually impossible to have truly humane eggs. In the wild, jungle fowl (from which today’s hens originate) lay one, maybe two clutches of eggs in the spring and that’s it. Enough to propogate the species. Then they give their bodies a long rest.

    It’s time to re-think the whole concept of manipulating and breeding certain species of birds so we can eat their eggs.

  5. Hi Gary,
    Thanks for the information on egg production. I had not read that the birds have been genetically modified to produce more eggs, but that makes sense. Look what they’ve done to cows! I was just reading the birds raised to be “broilers” have been genetically modified to the point where a significant number of them suffer from broken legs because they can’t support their own body weight any longer.
    What have we done?

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