Michael Anissimov at Accelerating Future weighs in on another middle-class myth: the idea that “free range” is somehow a perfect solution for being nice to animals. This is another of those Whole Foods-style hairshirts: buy something slightly more expensive, with fuzzier, nicer packaging, and your hands are clean. Not so.
Having been both vegetarian and vegan at times in my life, and often returning to eating meat, I don’t have a clear answer on this one (although I recently heard a great NPR interview with a woman who designs machines to help cow slaughtering be more humane, who made the salient point that had these animals not been bred for food, they never would have lived at all). I do know that factory farm conditions are appalling, and a great unspoken shame of our civilization. Sadly, though, it seems that “free range” is not the easy answer.
Meat and egg companies often try to sell their wares to unsuspecting SWPLs (”socially conscious” educated bourgeoisie Americans) by using the “free range” label. Unsurprisingly, this label is a lie. To quote the Wikipedia page on “free range”:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed.
The USDA has no specific definition for “free-range” beef, pork, and other non-poultry products. All USDA definitions of “free-range” refer specifically to poultry. No other criteria-such as the size of the range or the amount of space given to each animal-are required before beef, lamb, and pork can be called “free-range”. Claims and labeling using “free range” are therefore unregulated. The USDA relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims.”
Basically, the label is a farce. It conjures up images of old time family farms, when the reality is the exact opposite. Factory farmed chickens are routinely debeaked, and starved to cause forced molting, which shocks them into entering another egg-laying cycle. They live in filthy, shit-strewn cages and suffer from respiratory diseases due to inhaling large quantities of nitrogen released by their feces. “Free range” chickens spend most of their time in cages.
(Accelerating Future: Free Range is Bullshit)