Veganism: What's Wrong with Free-Range?
"Free-Range" Is Misleading
The entire discussion about free-range animal products distracts consumers from the critical fact that animal suffering and death are an inherent part of "factory farming."
Because of minimal provisions and oversight, animals living on free-range or cage-free farms in the United States - whether for meat, dairy, or egg production - are subject to atrocious living conditions. The free-range label does not accurately describe what living conditions are like for the animals.
Once they reach a marketable weight or decline in their milk or egg production, the animals are brutally transported for inhumane slaughter, exactly the same as their non-free-range counterparts.
"Free-range" does not alter the basic system of factory farming; it simply gives the industry a friendly-sounding term that masks its inhumane treatment of animals.
The Lives of Animals Raised for Meat
Painful Conditions Whether Free-range or Caged
Chickens, turkeys, and pigs raised for meat have been genetically selected to convert food into meat at an astounding rate. This has resulted in numerous health issues for the animals, including having bones and ligaments too weak to fully support their weight, and heart and lung problems.
They are in constant pain, and broken bones are fairly common among the animals. Living on a free-range farm does not alter their biological reality of being on the brink of structural collapse.
Free-range Dairy Cows
A dairy cow, whether free-range or not, is impregnated every year in order to stimulate milk production. Her calf is taken away from her shortly after it is born, an injustice that is extremely distressing to any mammal mother and baby.
Male calves born to dairy cows are killed and sold as veal or low-grade beef when they are between a few weeks and four months old, whether they are born on a free-range farm or not. The males, after all, do not produce milk and have not been bred to produce the quantity of meat of beef cattle, so they are seen as essentially useless by-products of the dairy industry - something that does not change just because a farm is "free-range."
The fact that veal calves are born as a direct result of the dairy industry leads to the saying, "Every glass of milk and slice of cheese comes with an invisible serving of veal."
The traditional veal calf crates would not qualify as free-range. Calves born on a free-range dairy farm can be sold to non-free-range farms or raised as "free-range veal," being allowed to graze in the field during their very short lives.
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Male chicks of the layer breed of are killed at the hatchery when they are a day or two old, regardless of whether or not the females are being sold to cage-free facilities.
Cage-free hens, like their caged counterparts, are routinely de-beaked without anesthesia and typically have food and water withheld for up to a week or two at a time on occasion in order to force another cycle of egg production.
Labels such as "free-range" and "cage-free" are used primarily as a marketing ploy to make conscientious consumers believe they are purchasing products from farms that treat their animals humanely and kindly, where the animals spend most of their time grazing and enjoying the outdoors. In fact, those labels are only very loosely defined and are hardly regulated, with no third-party verification of conditions on the farms. Living standards for free-range and cage-free animals can be shockingly cruel.
The guidelines that exist indicate that free-range birds must have access to the outdoors, but there are no specific rules for living conditions. This means that chickens may be crammed into a shed (rather than a cage) without sufficient room to spread their wings.
But if there is a narrow door leading to a small area outside the shed, then this would meet the criterion for having access to the outdoors - even if that area is a patch of dirt polluted with fecal matter from the chickens. Only a few birds out of hundreds, or even thousands, may be able to access the area outside the shed; but because there is an "opportunity" for birds to get out, this arrangement would qualify as "free-range."
I know this kind of information is very upsetting and can be depressing.
But there is a silver lining!
We all have the ability to make a choice to reduce or eliminate animal products on our plates.
Every single cruelty-free meal we eat has a positive impact on the lives of animals, the earth's environment, and our own personal health!
Information about Vegan Living
This is the book I read when I became vegan. This is intelligent, inspiring, and compassionately written.
Free-range Guidelines for Animals Raised for Meat
Free-range cows, pigs, and sheep must eat grass and have some access to the outdoors. However, no specific requirements are in place regarding the size of the range, herd density, or other treatment. The farms, which of course seek to maximize their profits, are basically left to police themselves, and consumers are left to trust a meaningless label on a package of meat.
"Free-range" and "cage-free" describe, to a small extent, the environment of the farm on which the animals are raised. But the guidelines do not provide any protections against common farming practices such as castration, de-horning, branding, and de-beaking without anesthesia or painkillers. Laws prohibiting animal cruelty exempt farm animals, so actions that would be illegal (not to mention morally reprehensible) if done to a cat or dog are sanctioned when perpetrated against farm animals.
"Free-range" and "cage-free" do not mean that animals are treated with any kindness when it comes to transporting them to the slaughterhouse and killing them. As with all other factory farmed animals, they are handled very violently in transport and are brutally killed (frequently while fully awake and capable of feeling pain) in conditions very few of us could stomach.
The Bottom Line
Many consumers would like to take comfort in buying free-range meat, dairy, and eggs. However, the lack of protections afforded to farm animals in free-range or cage-free facilities, along with the animals’ cruel slaughter after life on the farm, means that consumers are easily misled about the living conditions of these animals. While free-range farm animals may have incrementally improved living conditions over their counterparts on “standard” factory farms, their suffering is much too great to ignore or accept. Conscientious consumers should not allow themselves to be placated by a label that is essentially meaningless.