'Free-Range' and 'Organic' Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products

As people become more aware of the horrors of factory farming, companies are responding by labeling their products “all-natural,” “free-range,” “free-roaming,” or “organic.” But these labels are misleading. Most “free-range” animals are still mutilated and forced to endure long trips to slaughterhouses without any food or water. They all have their lives violently cut short and are denied the opportunity to engage in everything that is natural and important to them.

‘Free-Range’ and ‘Free-Roaming’

Companies want consumers to believe that products labeled “free-range” or “free-roaming” are derived from animals who spent their short lives outdoors, enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and the company of other animals. Labels—other than “organic”—on egg cartons are not subject to any government regulations, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not regulate “free-range” or “free-roaming” claims for beef products.

The USDA requires that “free-range” animals have access to outdoor areas, but there is no provision for how long they must spend or how much room they must have outside. The Associated Press reported that the USDA’s regulations don’t “require the birds to actually spend time outdoors, only to have access.”1

Because of genetic manipulation, even if an outdoor area is available, many chickens don’t take advantage of the so-called “access.” One farm expert explains that chickens raised for meat in the United States are not bred for “mobility”—they’re bred for “hogging down food.” This expert pointed out that because the birds often can’t walk, they rarely venture far from the feed trough.2


Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products labeled “organic” must come from animals who are “given no antibiotics or growth hormones.”3 The USDA cautions consumers that the “organic” label should not be confused with or likened to “natural” or any other label, and it “makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.”4

Like the “free-range” label, the “organic” label does not guarantee that animals were treated any better than animals raised on conventional factory farms.

3 Facts About ‘Free-Range’ and ‘Organic’ Chicken and Eggs

  1. Regardless of what the egg cartons say, most hens raised for their eggs are subjected to cramped, filthy conditions until their egg production begins to wane—when they’re about 2 years old—and then they’re slaughtered.5
  2. More than 100 million “spent” hens are killed in slaughterhouses every year.6
  3. Every year, millions of male chicks are killed—usually in a high-speed grinder called a “macerator”—because they’re worthless to the egg industry.7,8

What You Can Do to Help

Because there are so many different labels with inconsistent definitions and regulations, it’s difficult to determine which products are the most “humane.” Since none of the labels applies to transport or slaughter and none prohibits bodily mutilations such as debeaking, tail-docking, ear-notching, or dehorning, the worst cruelty continues to be completely unregulated.

The only truly humane option is to go vegan and leave animals off your plate. Sign up to have FREE weekly vegan recipes sent straight to your inbox!

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1Jeremy Iggers, “Demand Increasing for Free-Range and Organic Chickens,” Associated Press, 19 Jul. 2003.
2Judith Blake, “Pastured Poultry: Advocates Say Both Chickens and Consumers Benefit With Free Range,” Seattle Times 26 Aug. 2003.
3Agricultural Marketing Service, “Background Information,” The National Organic Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Apr. 2008.
4Agricultural Marketing Service, “Going Organic,” National Organic Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8 Jun. 2010.
5Ryan A. Meunier et al., “Commercial Egg Production and Processing,” Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Purdue University, 4 Apr. 2003.
6Blake Morrison et al., “Old-Hen Meat Fed to Pets and Schoolkids,” USA Today 16 Dec. 2009.
7Joy A. Mench and Paul B. Siegel, “Poultry,” South Dakota State University, College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, 11 Jul. 2001.
8John Summers, “Sexing Chicks as 7-Day-Old Embryos,” Poultry Industry Council Factsheet #90, 1996.



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