18 Jan 2019
At long last, the word ‘battery’ is becoming the exclusive domain of C, D and AA in supermarket aisles as jumbo, large and medium cease to be associated with caged hen eggs.
Well, slowly but surely.
This is clearly good news for chickens. A good many are no longer required to make light of a life they would gratefully swap with sardines. Varying degrees of freedom are now a matter of course for the lucky ones as they go about their short egg laying or succulent breast-building existence. It’s still not exactly the life of Riley, but any humane step in the right direction is a good step.
The answer to this very important question, both from an ethical and purely health-based viewpoint, depends on who you talk to. The free range industry will give their version of events as they affect live produce; the organic industry will, naturally, give theirs.
Unquestionably, both offer massive advances in welfare for any chicken in the human food chain. That alone needs to be celebrated as we move away from the battery farms that have been such an inhumane production line of food to date.
Unfortunately, standards do vary depending on the weight any given producer places on welfare versus marketable end product. So, with this mind, let’s look at the key differences.
In essence, free range means chickens that don’t spend their entire lives in cramped cages. They have the sort of freedoms any chicken would expect for normal development and happiness, be it a field, yard or barn.
They have some access to the outdoors, though the exact nature of this varies greatly from farm to farm.
Are free range chickens organic? No, pretty much anything goes and there are no diet restrictions on free range chickens and egg-laying hens. Basically, they eat what battery hens eat – mixed grains – albeit in slightly more salubrious surroundings. As they can roam, they can add such delicious snacks as insects to their diet.
Why is free range a good idea? For one, it’s more humane. Aside from that, any chicken with even limited freedoms is a happier chicken.
It’s more about what chickens eat. As opposed to standard free range farms where anything goes feed-wise, organic farms must stick to synthetic chemical-free feeds. To be officially recognised as an organic farm, hens must only eat pure, organic feed and no nasty animal by-products like egg shells and ground bones.
Does organic mean free range? Basically yes; it’s free range with benefits. Organic chickens and egg-laying hens enjoy similar, if not necessarily controlled, freedoms. While they may spend a good amount of time in barns or fairly confined areas, they must have daily access to outdoor areas. How large these areas are and for how long is one of the less clarified aspects of both organic and free range farming.
Whatever the residual inadequacies and inconsistencies, free range and organic farms are still a major step in the right direction, no pun intended. The more we buy one of the other, the more battery farms will go out of business.
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