You’ve probably seen “cage-free,” “free-range,” and “pastured,” on egg packages in your local markets. But what exactly do these phrases mean? Free ranging hens frolicking in sunny pastures? Or hens crowded together in confined spaces? The Animal Legal Defense Fund is headed to court to ensure egg producers don’t get away with deceiving well-intentioned consumers with misleading packaging.
ALDF is filing a class-action lawsuit against California egg producers Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs (“Judy’s Eggs”), owned by Petaluma Egg Farm, for false advertising. As you can see, the packaging implies hens have access to a natural outdoor environment. Children sit amidst green grass on a sunny day. A butterfly floats above, as a happy little hen roams freely with her chicks.
As Michael Pollan references in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Petaluma Egg Farm “has clearly mastered the conventions of Supermarket Pastoral.”
Who could begrudge a farmer named Judy $3.59 for a dozen organic eggs she presumably has to get up at dawn each morning to gather? Just how big and sophisticated an operation Petaluma Eggs really is I was never able to ascertain: The company was too concerned about biosecurity to let a visitor get past the office.
This pastoral kitsch sounds nice, but in reality, Judy’s “Family Farm” is an industrial shed where hens are imprisoned indoors and can never step foot in the wide open fields of Sonoma Valley in their lives.
Cage-free is not cruelty-free. Concerned consumers aren’t just buying the product—they’re buying the story behind the product, and the promise that these hens lead decent lives with outdoor access.
With this deception comes substantial profit for companies like Judy’s Eggs. But it also violates California consumer protection laws and means an unfair disadvantage for legitimately free-range businesses. Meanwhile, these falsehoods allow producers to profit from the suffering of hens.
ALDF believes consumers have a right to know what they are purchasing. ALDF filed the case as a class-action on behalf of all consumers who bought Judy’s Eggs under the mistaken belief that the hens can roam outdoors. This allows all harmed consumers to recoup monetary damages that could total millions of dollars and send a strong signal to the industry that misrepresentations about animal welfare will not be tolerated.
“The lack of clarity regarding ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ eggs is one of the reasons why this false advertising lawsuit is so important,” says Chris Berry, ALDF litigation fellow. “However, the best way to ensure your choices don’t harm animals is to reduce or eliminate eggs from your diet.”
Photo credit: ALDF