Recent research at Bristol University in the UK has called into question just how much better for chickens free range farming is, and acts as more evidence for the animal rights benefits of veganism.
Comparing chickens after they've hatched
The study looked at the condition of chickens kept in a range of different farming styles, including battery cages, enriched cages, barn systems and free-range.
The findings in relation to battery cages will surprise no-one. These barbaric cells have long been recognised as incredibly harmful to chickens, and were banned in Europe in 2012.
But the findings on free range farms were more surprising. Often held up as the ethical way to farm chickens, some of these farms had chickens in worse conditions than those kept in non-battery cages. Smaller free range systems in particular showed higher levels of stress, pecking and deaths among the chickens.
A problem of control
One of the report's authors concluded that what is needed is improved management of the free range farm system, so that it enforces the sort of welfare consumers expect when they see the words 'free range'. But is this really enough? Short of a cripplingly costly inspection regime, it would be near impossible to properly supervise the conditions in all chicken farms. Top-down control is impractical, and bottom-up economic factors drive farmers to cram more birds into a small space, even if it is theoretically free range.
Time to bring this to an end?
Regardless, it is clear that no farm provides the conditions chickens really seek. As long as they are kept in this way they will be exposed to stress, discomfort and harm.
How much longer can anyone say that is worth it for the sake of an egg?
Image by SMcGarnigle via Flickr creative commons