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What does 'Free Range' actually mean?

Published on November 21, 2012 by Henny Penny in British Hen Welfare Trust

Free range eggs sold in supermarkets are commercially produced. No big surprise there. But did you know that the conditions and regulations relating to commercial free range egg production are still pretty unpleasant? 

Most of us are willing to pay a premium for free range eggs believing that the birds have a better quality of life than caged birds. Unfortunately that's not the case and the public are being led up the garden path with images of beautiful hens happily clucking around a field. 

On January 1, 2012 the rules on internal stocking density in the UK changed for longstanding producers. An EU directive was introduced on August 3 1999 reducing the stocking rate for free range egg producers from 11.7 hens per square metre to nine hens per square metre by the end of 2011. 

To visualise this, mark out a square meter on the ground and then imagine 9 hens in there. Yes it is an improvement on the tortuous conditions faced by battery hens, but it’s hardly idyllic. Should these really be called ‘free range’? 

Not when you compare them to the ‘real’ free range eggs you see being sold down many a country roadside. These have been produced by happy hens who have the space to roam around outside, enjoy the sunshine (and rain) and the odd dust-bath in a stress-free environment. They are not over-stocked, don't have half their feathers missing or brutalised beaks. These are proper free range eggs in the true sense. And don’t forget, happy chickens lay the most delicious eggs of all. 

Perhaps the supermarket’s ‘free range eggs’ should be re-named ‘limited range eggs’. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

What does 'Free Range' actually mean?

Tags: free range, eggs, supermarket, egg producers

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