Understanding food labels. Free range and cage-free chicken. Part 2

In the Part 1 of Understanding food labels I have discussed a brief history of the free-range and cage-free chicken and the beginning of the transition to the cage-free chicken.  I continue, as the pressure of having the cage-free chicken began building, the egg suppliers ended up having to give in.

They didn’t like it but the law of supply and demand prevailed.  If this is what their customers wanted, they’d do it.  Rose Acre Farms, one of the biggest egg producers, is converting its operations to cage-free, and likely all the major suppliers will follow the suit.  The fast food industry has given its vendors until 2025 to produce range-free eggs.  This seems like an awfully long time but the problem is, this can be done only with a new generation of chickens and will take time.  Birds that live in cages can’t be converted into the range-free kind due to the different lifestyle.

What exactly is free-range?

USDA defines free-range as simple as allowing access to the outside.  Quite vague if you ask me.  There are no specific requirements for the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access that leaves the subject open to the interpretations.   USDA remains silent about a definition of cage-free birds.

Wall Street Journal sheds more light on this by describing the main difference between free-range and cage-free chickens.  Cage-free birds are, well, uncaged, and while being able to freely roam a barn, they generally don’t have access to the outdoors.  Free-range birds, on the other hand, are both cage-free and have access to the outdoors.

Basically, cage-free means that the chickens are not placed in the battery cages.   However, it doesn’t mean that they have plenty of room to roam around.  If chickens can move freely in a chicken coop, then they are technically cage-free.  Such as the one below.


But are free-range or cage-free eggs nutritionally better than their counterparts in a caged environment?  It depends who you ask.  My google search has produced quite a number of opinions, including some sites describing the mistreatment of chicks quite graphically (albeit lacking the images of such) while questioning your mental status by suggesting you being a sociopath lacking empathy for the suffering of animals.

Yet some other sites state unequivocally that “cheap” chicken are the ones that were “treated poorly while alive”, of “questionable healthfulness”, were “slaughtered cruelly”, and “produced in a way that damages the environment”, whatever this means.  Again, they state that free-range chickens are better than caged ones yet don’t explain exactly how they are better.

The answer posted by USDA in their Q&A section, states that the terms free-range and cage-free chicken both have to do with the hens housing and don’t necessarily make a nutritional difference for lack of scientific data.

As far as I am concerned, I am not convinced that paying $6 for a dozen of eggs makes sense.  So I’m paying about one-third of that for the eggs of my choice, and my body doesn’t seem to mind.  YMMV


  1. Wired
  2. Humane Society
  3. USDA
  4. Wall Street Journal
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13 Responses to Understanding food labels. Free range and cage-free chicken. Part 2

  1. Anna says:

    You’re welcome, Penny. Glad to know that you enjoyed it


  2. Mabel Kwong says:

    I do try to buy free range eggs here in Australia, but sometimes they do jack up the prices. I wonder why 😦 After all, it is for a good cause. So I usually end up buying normal eggs and you know, based on scientific evidence, they might be the same as free range eggs…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joëlle says:

    The reason I buy organic free range chicken eggs is because crowded chicken spaces usually mean antibiotics have to be used in order to avoid or treat diseases. As a former teacher, I can attest that germs love crowds!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anne J. says:

    I’ve always seen chicken as food not pets so free-range, cage-free doesn’t bother me. I’m probably going to be hated but when I was younger, we all knew what’s grown to be eaten and what’s not. Not that some Asian people leave the dogs and cats alone, which is totally disgusting. But I don’t know when “humaneness” (related to human or humanity, no?) extended to animals. Then again, I am happy being a meat-water though I don’t like red meat so much. I don’t eat sheep because it has a strong after taste. Now, chemicals to enhance growth are a different story altogether. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on koolkosherkitchen and commented:
    Continuing the discussion about free range an cage free chicken. Thank you, Anna, for researching and sharing this valuable information.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sound of Silence says:

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    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anna says:

    I can totally relate. I try to go vegetarian every now and then but last about a week tops.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I do buy free range, but as you say it’s a personal choice and there is a real problem with food marketing not being clear enough. I imagined my eggs coming from chickens running around in acres of land, or at least a few metres 😦 On the subject of chickens, I have a friend who was a microbiologist for a major UK supermarket. She said that no matter what type of chicken you buy to eat, they all die the same horrible death. I stopped eating chicken for years but started again. I feel guilty about it. I don’t eat red meat but I do eat chicken, turkey and fish. I’m not a hypocrite, just not ready to go fully vegetarian. Hopefully one day.

    Liked by 1 person

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