I always thought that a “Free-Range” chicken was allowed to roam freely around green pastures eating bugs and all kinds of other insects. However, what I discovered through doing some research (via internet and talking with local farmers that raise free-range chickens and sell their meat and eggs) threw me for a loop.
USDA & Free Range Chicken
The USDA allows for any chicken raised with access to the outdoors to be labeled “free-range”. Nowhere does it state that the chickens have to actually go outdoors; ACCESS is the only legal binding verbiage of that rule. They may still be raised in the same overpopulated poultry house type production and be labeled “free-range”. Furthermore, those farmers can charge more for their “free-range” product. Certified organic chickens may also be raised like this. A trailer full of chickens, raised in coops stacked 3 tiers high on top of one another, can be labeled “free range” as long as there is a door on that confining facility. I bet you didn’t know that – I know I didn’t.
USDA Standards for Free Range Eggs
What’s even scarier is that the USDA has NO STANDARDS on free-range eggs and allows egg farmers to freely label any egg as a “free range” egg. This also means that chickens bearing “free-range” eggs have NOT necessarily been fed a better diet than those raised in a factory farm. In other words, the hens may still have been fed the same GMO or animal byproducts as in factory farming. It is mind-blowing that I have been spending more money on buying “free-range, hormone-free, antibiotic-free” eggs, when it really doesn’t mean anything.
Hormone Free Chicken
While we’re on this topic, one thing does require clarification. Hormones have not been approved for use in U.S. egg or poultry production by the FDA. So, there’s really no such thing as a chicken with hormones anyway. Those farmers labeling their chickens as “hormone-free” are either using that term out of ignorance of this fact (highly unlikely) or they’re simply trying to con you into thinking their chickens are better than anyone else’s. Either way, it makes no difference, so ignore that on the label. This applies to both organic and conventional.
Perhaps I sound like a broken record when advising people to talk to local farmers and find out about their food, but the reason I say this is that sometimes local farmers won’t go out and get organic certified. Most of their business comes from loyal customers who know about the true amount of labor and love that farmer is putting into that food. Why go out and become “organic certified” when it no longer means what it used to? It would appear that greed has taken hold where it hurts us the most; in our nutrition.
Marion Nestle in “What to Eat” – on Eggs
To sum up, let me leave you with a little of what the well-known nutritionist Marion Nestle states about eggs in her book “What to Eat” –
From a nutritional standpoint, eggs are eggs. Turning eggs into a “designer” food is a great way to get you to pay more for them but there are less expensive and easier ways to get vitamin E, selenium, lutein, and omega-3s from foods. If you do not give a hoot about how the eggs are produced, buy the cheapest ones you can find. The shell color makes no nutritional difference.
If you do care enough about how the hens are treated to pay more for eggs, buy Certified Humane (but not United Egg Producers Certified). If you also care about what the hens are fed, or just want to cast your food vote for the organic movement, buy eggs that are Certified Organic. Whatever eggs you decide to buy, don’t eat too many of them – or buy the smallest size. Small eggs still have a lot of cholesterol, but less than the extra-large and jumbo sizes.