I received a heads up this morning in my email about an issue of consumers being bamboozled by labeling on egg cartons. A lawsuit was filed in California by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) Suing Bay Area Egg Producers for False “Free-Range” Advertising. Imagine that!
Named in the suit are Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs (Judy’s Eggs) and Petaluma Egg Farm for violating California’s consumer protection laws. ALDF assisted by the law firm Fazio/Micheletti, is asking that Judy’s Eggs be prevented from using images implying that its eggs come from hens which are not confined and in an outdoor environment. Packaging contains a written message that states “hens are raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to roam, scratch, and play”. Actually folks, the hens are crammed into sheds with no outdoor access according to ALDF.
I’ve talked about this in earlier posts of The Land of Confusion and I really hate to say “I told you so” but hey, if the shoe fits…….. This issue is not confined to California it’s happening all over the country!
While the class action lawsuit aims to prevent the use of images which dupe consumers into believing the eggs come from “real” free range hens I can hear the arguments from the defense about the use of words.
What exactly does “hens are raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to roam, scratch, and play” mean? Under the ambiguous wording of current allowances for “free range” it could possibly mean that although the hens are confined in large open sheds they aren’t caged therefore they are free to roam, scratch, and play. Open sheds could mean that fresh air is allowed in through windows or curtains however there are no doors or openings for the hens to go outside. In addition, organic standards only require that hens have access to the outdoors.
Those who make our laws, regulations, and standards have allowed for loopholes leading to the bastardization of free range. Ever since the market demand for free range and best animal welfare practices soared, those who are looking only for company profits have infused the market with deception. Furthermore, our government, so far, has let the vagueness in word meanings to continue.
For those of us who practice real free range and implement best animal welfare practices it becomes a frustrating merry-go-round. For all intents and purposes the idea of free range, high animal welfare, and organic wasn’t conceived upon the notion of how can we play with words and pictures to rip off consumers. We work hard to achieve the level of farming that consumers are looking for and personally, what I think is self-satisfactory. Allowances for greed to rare its ugly head and diminish those efforts, is unacceptable. Four words keep surfacing in my head. Morally and ethically versus unfair and deceptive!
Maybe in the next go round of writing laws, regulations, and standards a section should be added specifically stating what the words don’t mean. In other words – free range doesn’t mean that animals only have access to the outdoors or that they have room in a confined building to roam, scratch, and play.