I had this interesting conversation with a colleague at work. My colleague was telling me adrenaline pumping tales about how he became a vegetarian. But he had an odd caveat, he still ate eggs. He was careful to note that he only purchased eggs that were “free run”, he lit up and told me that the hens that laid his eggs were treated well, could go outside and were better off than what everyone else is eating. I thought that was neat, but I was fairly suspicious. First, he bought his eggs from a very large international grocery store. I thought immediately that any supplier that was able to supply this chain isn’t a ma and pap operation. In fact, the eggs in question are “Gold Egg”. From what I gleaned, Gold Egg is a label under the National Egg Inc. coalition. In each province a different egg provider provides eggs under the Gold Egg brand, in Ontario it’s Gray Ridge farms, a fairly large egg operation. But it’s worse than that. Here’s what I came up with:
Free Range and Free Run
The truth of the matter is rather simple, free range eggs are eggs that come from hens that live in open barns i.e., no cages. This ostensibly seems great, but some of the population densities in these barns are packed tightly. Free range eggs have some access to the outdoors. This seems to be legally ambiguous, as in, there is no strict legal threshold to how many hours would constitute free range vs not free range. There are some hurdles to offering hens outdoor access, such as the weather and winter.
Free run on the other hand, sometimes known as “barn eggs” are from hens in open barns. They do not have access to outdoors and do not necessarily have more room than birds that are in battery cages.
Both labels are not audited or externally verified unless it is certified organic. This is an example of industry regulating itself. We can see here, that most of the buzz around free range and free run eggs is mostly marketing bluster. Free run sounds great, but doesn’t offer much except a cage-free experience. Free range is better, but there is no legally binding definition of outdoors time. This is all compounded if you buy eggs that are not externally verified, which they do not have to be to carry those labels.
In the end, this is a clear example of marketers trying to capture the anti-consumption market.
Cage-free eggs: A comparison of labels Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals