Law Professor Criticises Welfare Claims for Eggs

US - Egg cartons do not accurately report animal welfare claims, according to a professor at Rutgers School of Law–Camden.
calendar icon 2 June 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

If you think that you are using humanely produced eggs for your omelets or devilled eggs, think again, according to Rutgers School of Law–Camden. Egg companies recognise that most Americans care about the welfare of farmed animals and many market their eggs with labels claiming the hens were treated well. But a Rutgers–Camden law professor warns that many of the animal welfare claims on egg cartons are not all they are cracked up to be.

Sheila Rodriguez, a clinical associate professor at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, asserts that food consumers have a right to know how farm animals are raised and, for that reason, egg producers' claims about animal welfare should be regulated by the federal government.

In a forthcoming edition of the Temple Journal of Science, Technology & Environmental Law, the Rutgers–Camden professor argues that egg consumers have a right to know that "most hens are packed eight or nine hens to a cage. [The cages are] so small that [hens] are unable to stretch a wing. The overcrowding causes them to fight, so their beaks are cut off to prevent them from injuring other birds. The fewer than five per cent of eggs in the US that are not produced under these conditions are from hens that were not even allowed outside," says Professor Rodriguez.

In her article, 'The Morally Informed Consumer: Examining Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Labels', Professor Rodriguez contends that consumers need to understand that "'cage-free' hens are a subset of factory-farmed production. Even small farms that do not raise hens under industrial production standards purchase their birds from factory-farm hatcheries."

Animal welfare claims on egg labels should be regulated to ensure accuracy. The Rutgers–Camden professor notes that "many of the production method claims made by egg producers cannot be accurately verified. Industry standards are factory farmed standards. Federally verified claims made under the National Organic Program, though comprehensive, are problematic because of lax enforcement."

Consumers also may be misled by such marketing claims as 'natural', 'no antibiotics used' and 'no hormones administered', which, Professor Rodriguez explains, have no relevance to animal welfare. And while the terms 'free-range' and 'free-roaming' frequently appear on egg cartons, these are claims that apply to poultry, or birds raised for their meat, not to birds raised for their eggs.

Until clear and enforceable guidelines are established, Professor Rodriguez argues, conscientious consumers should avoid purchasing most eggs.

In addition to her research on farmed animals, Professor Rodriguez serves on the University of Pennsylvania's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees all research, education and training involving animals to ensure compliance with federal law. The University of Pennsylvania appointed her as a non-scientist to represent the outside community's interest in the humane treatment of animals.

Prior to joining the faculty at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, Professor Rodriguez served as Counsel for the Animal Protection Institute, now Born Free USA, a national nonprofit animal advocacy organization headquartered in Sacramento.

A resident of Haddonfield in New Jersey, Professor Rodriguez teaches courses in legal writing and animal law at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.

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