By Larraine Roulston:
The terms Cage-Free, Free-Range, Organic, Natural, Certified Humane and BC SPCA Certified are difficult for the well-intentioned shopper to determine which labels truly reflect their message and which are green- or humane-washed.
Many people are disconcerted to learn that the vast majority of eggs are produced by hens housed in battery cages. Rural folks may have either yard space for a backyard flock or access to farmers who raise animals in environments that match their expectation. This is not a viable option for most city dwellers, who depend on retailers to source responsibly and on labels to represent factually more ethical production and product quality.
Here are a few claims and labels that leave a lot of people scratching their heads in the egg aisle:
- “Cage-Free” or “Free Run” indicates that hens are raised on a barn floor or in a tiered aviary system. Unfortunately, the guarantee stops there — neither natural light, fresh air, outside access, nor an enriched environment are required.
- “Free-Range” birds are cage-free and have outdoor access; however, there are no criteria defining the amount or quality of outdoor space, or the duration of time allocated. This could translate into a few openings in a shed for thousands of birds, and the outdoor space being as barren as a concrete slab.
- “Natural” is rather confusing. This term has nothing to do with how poultry or other farm animals are raised despite the word’s common association with pasture, fresh air and sunlight. “Natural” is a government regulated term on food labels but applies only to the meat processing stage, not as a reflection of the farming system or how an animal lived.
- “Organic” is tricky. It was originally penned with an environmental focus and, while there are some improvements for animal welfare, many people buy organic expecting much higher welfare standards. Organic standards need to be revised and updated to reflect these principles and to ensure that all organic food caters to the philosophies upon which it was based.
Farm animal welfare can be improved more meaningfully with a requirement for an enriched indoor or quality outdoor environment, better husbandry practices, healthier breeds and more space. It is an animal welfare void that animal welfare labels such as Certified Humane and BC SPCA have filled with comprehensive standards. These standards are available online with farms being audited for compliance. In addition, these labels now can be found in major supermarkets like Sobeys, Safeway, and Whole Foods.
As with most higher quality products, friendlier eggs are typically more expensive to buy than battery cage eggs. Eating fewer but better eggs represents one solution to incorporating animal welfare into your food budget. Test these egg alternatives with your recipes:
- Use one teaspoon of baking soda with 1 tablespoon of vinegar for a fluffy effect in cakes and breads.
- Applesauce offers the binding and moisture needed, with 1/4 cup equalling one egg.
- One tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water works well for oatmeal cookies.
- Mashed bananas will replace one or two eggs for breads and muffins.
- One-quarter cup of Silken Tofu is a good substitute for dense moist cakes and brownies.
You can support better animal welfare on farms by supporting better animal welfare standards. Ask your grocer about carrying products with these labels or drop off this form: http://www.changeyourchickenchallenge.com/downloads/CYC-SupermarketRequest.pdf
The next time you use eggs to bake, celebrate your compassion! Help bring happiness to hens!
Larraine authors illustrated children’s books on composting at www.castlecompost.com