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Cage-free may not mean what you think: BC SPCA cautions consumers about food labels

October 6, 2016

Tianna Gauvreau, BC SPCA humane products marketing specialist, was disappointed when her butcher attempted to sell her “free run” chicken at a higher price than conventional chicken.

“If I did not work in farm animal welfare, I would not have known that I was being misled,” says Gauvreau. “I would have thought I was buying better meat that came from a happier chicken.”

In Canada, all meat chickens are raised “free run” and “cage-free,” while more than 90 per cent of egg-laying hens are raised in small, barren battery cages.

Meat chickens are raised in an entirely separate industry from egg-laying chickens, with different breeds and housing standards. Although cage-free and free run are important terms to look for when buying eggs, they are meaningless when applied to chicken meat.

Marketers know that “cage-free” and “free run” are empty claims in the meat chicken industry. However, with animal welfare becoming increasingly marketable, companies are looking for ways to appeal to consumers’ compassion.

“Chicken labelled as ‘free run’ or ‘cage-free’ is misleading,” Gauvreau says. “It takes advantage of consumers’ good intentions while falsely implying high animal welfare.”

Consumers who come across these types of misleading claims can file formal complaints directly with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and their local grocer or butcher.

Gauvreau has already taken the issue up with her butcher, and will now be looking elsewhere for chicken.

“It’s frustrating that I have to be vigilant when trying to buy higher welfare food. Labels should make shopping easier, not harder,” she says. “My plan is to look for animal welfare certifications so that I know my food meets my values.”

To ensure food is sourced from high-welfare farms, choose SPCA Certified, a third-party animal welfare certification system. Consult the BC SPCA’s food labelling guide for more information on other food labelling claims, and contact farminfo@spca.bc.ca with any questions.

The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.