Last week, PETA Germany released the findings of its undercover investigation of three “free-range” egg farms. What the group found was pretty much the same kind of horror story that we’ve had in the U.S. and the U.K.: Far from the idyllic barnyards that people might associate with “humanely raised” or “free-range” eggs, the investigators for PETA Germany found thousands of hens confined to filthy, windowless sheds, just as chickens on “ordinary” factory farms are. The investigators videotaped dead and dying chickens among the living. Many birds were crawling with parasites, were missing most of their feathers, and had large sores all over their bodies, some of which oozed pus. In Germany, eggs labeled “bio ” (organic and “humane”) are supposed to come from chickens with access to the outdoors, but PETA Germany’s investigators showed that the birds’ access to the outdoors was often impeded or blocked, sometimes by live electrical wires!
On one farm, the investigators found exposed 15,000-volt electrical wiring that was shooting sparks. The hot wiring effectively confined birds to one section of the barn. In February, a neighboring barn with similar defective wiring burned down, killing 19,000 birds.
In 2010, PETA Germany caught another farm violating Germany’s “bio” seal. The farmer now produces “free-range” eggs—the standards for which are less strict than those for the “bio” seal —but PETA Germany’s most recent investigation documented apparent violations of those standards as well. The farmer has failed to provide the more than 9,000 chickens confined to his barns with minimum required space.
The ‘Free-Range’ Scam
“Free-range,” “humanely raised,” and “certified” labels in the U.S. can also be deceptive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that “free-range” animals have access to outdoor areas, but the birds don’t actually have to go outside, and some are too afraid to or are barred by impediments. United Egg Producers uses a label that reads, “United Egg Producers Certified,” but this program is not regulated or enforced, and investigations have shown that companies using this label often do not treat chickens any differently than conventional factory farms do.
In fact, most “free-range” hens live in the same miserable, filthy factory farm conditions that “broiler” chickens (raised for their flesh) do. And like other factory-farmed hens, free-range hens are killed when their egg production begins to wane, at about 2 years of age.
Want to help hens? Stop eating eggs altogether. It’s not hard. Just opt for egg replacers in baked goods and whip up some tasty, heart-healthy scrambled tofu for breakfast. For more hen-friendly cooking ideas, visit PETA.org/Living.