What does "cage free" really mean?

Rita from Columbus, OH, who found this label, says:  

“There seems to be a lot of confusion over cage-free eggs… "Cage-free" chickens are kept in hen houses, often in cramped conditions, and may or may not have access to the outdoors or pasture.”

Charlotte says

You're right, Rita! Your carton of eggs may say "cage free," but that doesn't mean the hens get to roam in grassy pastures. Cage free just means that the hens aren't kept in cramped cages—but they can be kept indoors at all times, and often in crowded conditions.

If you're concerned about how the hens are treated, you may want to look for a combination of seals. For example, if a carton has both the Certified Humane seal and the “free range” claim, it means that the birds aren't kept in cages, and have access to the outdoors for at least six hours a day.

But some combinations are better than others. When the Certified Humane seal is paired with the pasture-raised claim, for example, it means hens have access to a pasture covered with living vegetation. It also requires at least 108 square feet of space per bird.

Lastly, the gold standard for animal lovers is the Animal Welfare Approved label. It's the only one that prohibits common practices like starvation-forced molting and beak clipping. It also provides for continuous access to an outdoor pasture and adequate indoor space so that birds can nest, perch, and dust bathe.

There a few other egg carton labels brands use. Click the links below to learn more: