Vegan at Heart

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What Labels Like "Organic" & "Cage Free" Really Mean
25 Apr 2011

Dear Vegan at Heart,

Today your mission is to find out what "free-range," "cage-free" and "organic" labels really mean.

My friend Dan Piraro, the vegan artist/comedian behind the Bizarro comic, told a joke once that went something like this:

A group of geese is called a "gaggle," a group of lions is called a "pride," so what do you call a group of people who avoid animal products?

A "buzzkill" of vegans.


In true buzz-killing vegan form, I'm going to pick the day after Easter to bring up the truth about all those free-range or cage-free organic Easter eggs. And what those fancy labels mean for dairy and meat products too. Chances are, after this mission you might not see them quite as the symbols of life, hope, and fun that you once did.

This week your mission is to set your timer to five minutes and read up on labels.

truth behind labelsBy far, the best resource on this issue is Farm Sanctuary's Truth Behind Labels Campaign. They've written a full 70-page report as well as a shorter summary, which I highly recommend reading.

Did you know, for example, that "cage free" egg-laying hens don't have to have access to the outdoors and are often crammed together by the thousands?

Or that "free range" only legally applies to birds raised for meat and that they can also be crowded by the thousands, with a tiny outdoor area that's no more than a dirt lot that's hard for them to reach?

Farm Sanctuary has put together some handy dandy charts comparing various labels for:

-egg-laying hens
-dairy cattle
-broiler chickens
-beef cattle

You'll notice quickly that the general industry guidelines suck and have made cruel treatment the norm for billions of animals.

You might notice that

the organic label

places emphasis on access to the outdoors and avoiding chemical or hormonal contamination.

Unfortunately, it doesn't mean all that much in terms of humane treatment (allows mutilations without anesthesia, for example.)

The Certified Humane Program seems to be more concerned with the bedding, the housing, and other living conditions etc. than the organic label is but doesn't require outdoor access for egg-laying hens, chickens raised for meat, or pigs. Also, they allow several mutilations without anesthesia.  


American Humane Certified is similar to the above but recently added video cameras at their veal production facilities and some poultry houses to help ensure compliance.


Animal Welfare Approved is administered by the Animal Welfare Institute and is more meaningful in terms of animal welfare than the labels listed above. The program is tiny, though, and represents maybe .001% of animals slaughtered in the U.S.


Which reminds me that all animals used in the farming industry, even dairy cows and egg-laying hens living in the least cruel conditions, are killed once their production declines. And, unfortunately, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is never really enforced and doesn't include birds.    


Is your buzz dead? Mission accomplished! ;-)  


Next week we'll cover specific questions to ask farmers so you get the real story of what's going on. The fun never stops around here.  


In the's to life! And hope! And spring!


Yours truly, 






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