Cage-free, humanely raised, free-range, what do they all mean for animals? Most laying hens—chickens that lay eggs—in the United States are raised in high-density battery cages made entirely of wire, with nothing to peck at, perch on, or a nest where they can comfortably rest and lay eggs. Additionally, chickens raised under these conditions are crowded together, spending their entire lives in a space roughly the size of an iPad. Americans don't want this to be the reality for farm animals. In a 2020 survey, 89% of Americans surveyed expressed concern about industrial animal agriculture, citing low animal welfare standards as particularly worrisome.
The move to cage-free
Given how much Americans care about the treatment of farm animals and the stark contrast to how farm animals are actually raised, it isn't surprising that consumers are increasingly seeking out more humane products. This growing demand is reflected in extreme confinement bans across the country: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington have all passed legislation banning battery cages for laying hens, and some of these states have passed additional legislation that prohibits the sale of eggs from caged hens within the state, some of which will go into effect in 2022 (California, Massachusetts, and Nevada).
Change for farm animals is also being driven by the marketplace. Many of the largest retailers, restaurants, and food brands have pledged to go 100% cage-free in the near future. And of course, there are individual shoppers choosing cage-free and welfare-certified eggs for themselves and their families whenever they can. A 2019 case study revealed that the market for welfare-certified eggs is growing—there has been a 57% increase in total sales of eggs carrying the Certified Humane® seal. This momentum is continuing as a growing list of food businesses make commitments to ensuring more humane conditions for hens.
Taking cage-free even further
Taking steps to prioritize more humane and transparent farming practices, such as moving hens to cage-free housing, is not only beneficial to animals but also brings us one step closer to a more transparent and ethical food system. While these cage-free systems give birds more space and freedom to roam within the barn, cage-free by itself is not enough to meet the instinctual needs of hens, and there are many farmers who take further measures to provide an engaging and fulfilling life for their animals.
For example, chickens love to dust bathe to keep their feathers clean. This means that they need enough space and substrate to clean themselves and express their full range of natural behaviors. Birds also need perches to roost on, darkened secluded nests to lay their eggs, and interesting things to investigate so they can maintain their physical and mental fitness. Features like these are not necessarily guaranteed on cage-free farms that are not recognized by a meaningful welfare certification, but they are the norm on every Certified Humane Free Range farm. On these farms, hens have daily access to the outdoors with opportunities to practice instinctual behaviors like foraging, dust bathing, and enjoying sunshine and shade. When companies like Nellie's display the Certified Humane Free Range logo on their products, it's easy to know that their hens are raised with more humane standards than those common on farms selling their products with a cage-free claim alone.
Consumer resources: how to make more humane choices
As a conscientious shopper, it can be difficult to navigate the marketplace and know which eggs are from hens who are given a decent life—and that's where the ASPCA steps in to provide clarity. The ASPCA offers several resources through its Shop With Your Heart® program to help consumers recognize and seek out more humane products, harnessing their power to influence the market for the better. The ASPCA recommends looking for products with meaningful animal welfare certifications, like Certified Humane®, and using its comprehensive Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Label Guide to understand what all the different labels in the marketplace actually mean for farm animals and how to avoid meaningless, misleading labels.
Luckily, the list of companies that prioritize more humane practices through pursuing a meaningful farm animal welfare certification continues to grow. The ASPCA recognizes Nellie's Free Range Eggs because of their distinguished and elevated commitment to giving hens a better life. Proudly featuring the Certified Humane® Free Range seal on all of its egg products, this means that Nellie's hens are never in cages, and instead have access to perches, nest boxes, and dust-bathing materials, as well as an outdoor range—all of which are verified by an independent auditor. By receiving an animal welfare certification for its eggs, Nellie's not only raises animals to a higher standard, but also offers transparency and assurance to customers. The ASPCA recognizes Nellie's Free Range Eggs through its Shop With Your Heart program, along with 150 other companies leading the way to improve animal welfare in their supply chains. Learn more at ASPCA.org/ShopWithYourHeart.