Environment. / ROSATI. / Uncategorized

Decoding “Free-Range” Claims

During my undergrad time at the University of Guelph, I was fortunate enough to have been placed in Johnston Hall as my residence. There were a lot of aggies in that dorm (otherwise known as students in the agricultural program), one of which was my roommate. Little did I know that throughout the year, I would be introduced to a wonderful group of aggie girls that have since turned out to be lifelong friends. A lot of aggies have now started their own farms or taken over the family business. They are educated, hard working, and take a genuine interest in the health of their animals. They recognize the balance between healthy practices and profit making. I hope farmers like these make up the bulk of the agricultural industry.

My philosophy is that knowledge is power. Recently, one of my aggie girls posted an eye-opening article on social media about the truth behind some “organic” or “cage-free” practices in the egg industry. It’s true that I do pay a premium for pesticide-free fruits, vegetables and meats. However, I have learned over the years that some of these practices are not what they are “cracked” up to be.

The article posted by my friend (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/theyre-being-eaten-alive-what-i-saw-in-a-cage_580a5aefe4b0b1bd89fdb1d0), emphasized how important being educated on animal behaviour is to the proper rearing of hens and other animals. Though the idea of hens running around free-range is a heartwarming thought, the reality of this practice shows a darker side. Many of these “free-range” or “cage-less” practices involve cramming a ridiculous amount of hens into a small area, minus the cages…. sound familiar? Criticism about traditional caged practices have not been rectified, but merely manipulated in order to gain consumer trust. In the absence of cages, hens are free to exhibit cannibalistic behaviour. As a result, there is an increased rate of disease and mortality among these hens.

What I’m pointing out is that as consumers, we are often misled by advertisements, key words or phrases. Profit-hungry companies have money as their bottom line, rather than the interests of the consumer or the welfare of the animals on which their businesses rely. Companies know that there are plenty of consumers who will pay a higher price for something that appears to be a healthier or eco-friendly option. Even the organic industry can be highly influenced by profit-driven practices.

Many of my friends are well-educated individuals that take pride in their farming practices. They have taken many courses during their degrees that have educated them on animal behaviour and humane practices. They work hard to put the health and welfare of their animal stock at the top of their priority list. And yes, many of them use antibiotics to maintain the health of their herds. When a child gets sick and enters into a daycare or school setting, they often spread their infection to their classmates (and their families).

Farmers recognize that animals get sick too. Rather than have an animal suffer or spread disease to an entire group, they practice safe, controlled and responsible veterinary medical care. I fully recognize that not all farmers practice this way, but I do know many people that do. Often times, farmers get bombarded with negativity from people that may not know how farming practices are carried out.

I am glad that my friend posted that story. I will definitely be doing a bit more research into my organic and eco-friendly choices and I encourage you to do the same, and to make your own, educated choice. Knowledge is power and as a consumer, I refuse to be misled in my choices. It is only when enough consumers recognize this that real change can be made to improve animal practices that are good for animals as well as consumers.

“Free-Range”: Myth or Reality? 

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Images taken from http://www.wikipedia.org
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