Animal Welfare Labels on Egg Cartons: Is the Industry Scrambling the Truth?

Written by Cheryl Leahy

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Walk into any grocery store in the United States today, and you’ll likely find cartons of eggs bearing a variety of advertising schemes ranging from images of happy hens roaming around outside to claims such as “animal friendly.”

Surprisingly though, what consumers see or read on the outside of an egg carton doesn’t necessarily represent how the hens who laid those eggs were treated. In fact, while most egg laying hens in the US spend their lives overcrowded inside barren wire cages, Compassion Over Killing has documented several cases of explicit and implied claims on egg cartons across the country that imply a higher level of animal care than is actually the case.

That’s the topic of a recent story by North Carolina’s Public News Service: “Truth in Labeling: Questions about Egg Carton Labels.” As the piece points out, “Without government standards in place, the egg labeling landscape is
meaningless. Phrases like ‘animal-friendly’ and ‘naturally-raised’ can be used indiscriminately.”

Sheila Rodriguez, associate professor at Rutgers School of Law, also tackles this issue in her recently published article “The Morally Informed Consumer: Examining Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Labels,” featured in the Temple Journal of Science, Technology & Environmental Law. She explains, “The labeling of shell eggs fails to reveal the inhumane conditions under which most laying hens are in the United States. Most hens are packed… to a cage so small that they are unable to stretch a wing.”

This article details the prevalance of misleading marketing on egg cartons and examines how the lack of federal regulations has rendered the labeling landscape meaningless. An estimated 95% of eggs sold in the U.S. come from birds confined in tiny wire cages. Yet most egg cartons in the U.S. not only fail to reveal this important information, but actually imply otherwise with the use of happy hen imagery or claims like “animal friendly.” In other words, not only is the egg industry cruelly confining hens in cages, it’s also deceiving consumers about that abuse.

COK-batterycage-280x210.jpgThat’s why Compassion Over Killing has been on the front lines exposing the miserable conditions forced upon an estimated 250 million caged hens and urging the U.S. government to address the rampant use of misleading animal welfare claims commonly found on egg cartons.

After successfully campaigning to remove the egg industry’s deceptive “Animal Care Certified” claim, we filed federal rule-making petitions with the FDA, USDA, and FTC urging these agencies to mandate the use of production-method labeling on cartons, including the claim “eggs from caged hens.” Such clear identification of how eggs are produced would provide consumers with relevant information to guide them in their purchasing decisions. As Rodriquez concludes in her article, “Given the widespread support for the humane treatment of laying hens, it is logical to infer that if consumers were aware of the actual living conditions of laying hens, they would be much less likely to buy conventionally-produced eggs — or perhaps even any eggs.”

Mandatory production-method labeling on egg cartons has already been implemented throughout the European Union and in several states in Australia. Consumers—and hens—in the U.S. deserve the same.

Please express your concern for this consumer and animal protection measure by writing a letter to the FDA in support of our truth in labeling petition.

And most importantly, the best way each of us can stand up for laying hens is to simply leave their eggs out of our shopping carts. Visit EggIndustry.com for quick tips on cracking the habit as well as baking without eggs.