Food label "fowl" play: the free-run myth - BC SPCA
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Food label “fowl” play: the free-run myth

September 27, 2023

With so many labels on meat and eggs, it can be challenging to know what each means regarding animal welfare. Free-run and free-range can be particularly confusing labels on poultry products. It’s important to first define these labels in general terms to understand what they mean for farmed poultry.

Free-run: animals are raised cage-free but indoors.

Free-range: animals are raised cage-free and have access to the outdoors.


When shopping for eggs, free-run and free-range are meaningful labels to look for, as they are better than the alternative: cages. After all, no one likes to think of laying hens living in tiny, cramped spaces. Unfortunately, this is the reality for 71% of laying hens in B.C.

For this reason, looking for cage-free labels like free-run or free-range on eggs makes a difference in the lives of laying hens. Free-run eggs mean the laying hens are not raised in cages and can roam around the barn. Free-range eggs are produced by laying hens that can roam around the barn, and when the weather permits, they have access to the outdoors.

Laying hen housing systems: cage, free-run, free-range (from left to right).

Chicken and turkey

When shopping for chicken and turkey meat, the free-run label is meaningless in providing additional welfare benefits. This is because chickens and turkeys raised for meat in Canada are never housed in cages. Therefore, they are all free-run unless they get to go outside, in which case they are considered free-range.

If you see free-run on a package of chicken in Canada, you should also see a tiny star next to it accompanied by text near the bottom of the package that reads, “Like all chickens in Canada.” This disclaimer is legally required so customers aren’t misled.

In Canada, all chickens raised for meat are cage-free (as seen above).

Is free-run better for chickens and turkeys?

While freeing egg-laying hens from cages is a step in the right direction, it does not guarantee them a good life. There needs to be special attention to housing and care to meet their needs. Similarly, just because all meat chickens and turkeys in Canada are already raised in a cage-free environment does not necessarily mean they have good welfare.

Turkeys raised in a free-run housing system, with little space to move.

What should I buy?

With Thanksgiving around the corner, eggs, chicken, and turkey for Thanksgiving gatherings are in high demand. Prioritize animal welfare for your holiday meals and desserts with these welfare-friendly choices.

Animal welfare certification

For those planning on serving meat or using eggs, show your guests you care by purchasing an animal welfare-certified product. The certifications we recommend are Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership and Organic. With these programs, all animals are raised cage-free and an auditor visits the farms to ensure the high standards of care are being met.

Free-run and free-range

If certified products are unavailable, look for free-run, or even better, free-range eggs for all your baking needs! When buying chicken and turkey, don’t be fooled by the free run label! Look for free-range instead for added animal welfare benefits.

Vegetarian or vegan

Many vegetarian and vegan options make delicious Thanksgiving dishes. Look for them in your grocery store the next time you are shopping.

Animal welfare certification program labels

For more information, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to help you demystify other food labels. For any questions, feel free to reach out to our farm animal welfare team.

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FarmSense is delivered four times a year and includes news about farm animal welfare, and updates on what the BC SPCA is doing to help improve the lives of farm animals in Canada.