Monday, February 8, 2016

Free Range.. Not Really Free

Keeping up with the many ways in which companies greenwash their products is time-consuming and frustrating.

Take chickens, for example. Or eggs. You walk into a supermarket and see cartons with claims like "Free Range!" "Cageless!" "Fed An Organic Vegetarian Diet!"

Here's what they don't say:

"Cageless" doesn't mean the chickens have all kinds of space to run around and play; in fact, they may just be crowded together on the floor of a large building.

"Free Range" doesn't guarantee that the chickens are out playing tag on the grass; producers can cram chickens into a warehouse that has, attached to the outside, a sort of long narrow cloister with a cement floor, enclosed in chain link. One small door (which most of the chickens don't know is there) allows the chickens access to this confined area where they can stand like little kids in a housing-project balcony, but most never go out because there is nothing there for them. Not food, not water, not grass. Yet, the eggs from these sad birds can be legally labeled "free range," and people trying to make the right choices buy them, thinking they are supporting humane practices.

"Vegetarian Diet" is a key that the birds are kept in unnatural  conditions, because hey, guess what: chickens eat bugs. So your "free-range" chicken on a vegetarian diet is indeed probably some poor bird crammed into a warehouse and fed grain.

I won't go into how incredibly cool and friendly and social these birds are when properly cared for and engaged, because their right to humane treatment shouldn't be based on how cute or cuddly or friendly they are. They could be the most vicious creatures on the planet and remain entitled to humane treatment.

The Cornucopia Institute is a good resource for understanding who's trying to label cruel practices as progressive and humane. If you have local farmers and can see how they raise their animals, that's a good start. An educated consumer is the best weapon against corporate lies.

Here's a quick Organic Egg Scorecard.

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