Free Range vs Free Run
I would like to define a few things for those of us who eat meat and dairy, but want to raise their standards. Lately we’ve been bombarded with phrases like “free run” and “grass finished” but what exactly do all of them really mean? I will attempt to define the terms based upon the US Department of Agriculture standards. I did a little exploring on the internet…let’s start with eggs (free range vs free run) – if you are going to change one thing, this is the one to consider in my opinion! I’ll touch on Grass Fed/Finished in another entry.
FREE RANGE vs FREE RUN
This term refers to any animal that is allowed to roam freely in open air. However, “free range” is mainly used as a marketing term – there is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel. To make matters more confusing, an “organic free range” chicken farm – grown without antibiotics – raises the chickens indoors for the first 5-6 weeks so they don’t catch diseases…and then are slaughtered 2 weeks after they are allowed out to “free air” anyhow.*
All USDA definitions of “free-range” refer specifically to poultry. When pertaining to beef, lamb, and pork, no other specifics are required before they can be called “free-range” – size of pasture, amount of space…so there really isn’t anyone but the farm telling us if these kinds of meats are free range.
Other terms that can mean free range are “low stocking density,” “pasture-raised,” “old-fashioned,” “humanely raised”.
Traditionally, laying hens are housed one bird to a wire cage, never se the light of day, and rub their breasts raw trying to get out, or get sane. Free-run is now a government regulated way that ALL EGG PRODCUERS have to house their chickens. (I repeat – ALL. That means paying more for the ones labelled “free run” is a waste of money.) The definition of free run is eight laying hens in a large cage. Still they may never see the outside, and are usually debeaked because of proximity. Some similar terms are cage-free, free-running, free-roaming, naturally nested…which is all just a fancy way of saying high-density floor confinement.
“Pastured Poultry” – is a term promoted by farmer/author Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farm for broiler chickens raised on grass pasture for all of their lives except for the initial brooding period.
I hope this clears a bit up…I found it added a bit more frustration to my grocery shopping, however I am absolutely not ever going to purchase another carton of regular grocery store eggs. I am lucky to have found a wonderful little shop called Herb & Spice in Ottawa that carries very well priced free range locally raised eggs.
Vote with your wallets everyone!
*”The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, author Michael Pollan pg 140