AR-FAQ - #55

#55 Can't we just eat free-range products?

The term "free-range" is used to indicate a production method in which the animals are (allegedly) not factory-farmed but, instead, are provided with conditions that allow them to fully express their natural behavior. Some people feel that free-range products are thus ethically acceptable. There are two cases to be considered: first, the case where the free-range animal itself is slaughtered for use, and second, the case where the free-range animal provides a product (typically, hens providing eggs, or cows providing milk). Common to both cases is a problem with misrepresentation of conditions as "free-range". Much of what passes for free-range is hardly any better than standard factory-farming; a visit to a large "free-range egg farm" makes that obvious (and see MT's comments below). Nutritionally, free-range products are no better than their factory-farmed equivalents, which are wholly or partly responsible for a list of diseases as long as your arm. For the case of free-range animals slaughtered for use, we must ask why should a free-range animal be any more deserving of an unnecessary death than any other animal? Throughout this FAQ, we have argued that animals have a right to live free from human brutality. Our brutality cannot be excused by our provision of a short happy life. David Cowles-Hamar puts it this way: "The suggestion that animals should pay for their freedom with their lives is moral nonsense." Another thing to think about is the couple described at the end of question #13. Their babies are free-range, so it's OK to eat them, right? For the case of products from free-range animals, we can identify at least four problems: 1) it remains an inefficient use of food resources, 2) it is still environmentally damaging, 3) animals are killed off as soon as they become "unproductive", and 4) the animals must be replaced; the nonproductive males are killed or go to factory farms (the worst instance of this is the fate of male calves born to dairy cows; many go for veal production). BRO

What's wrong with free-range eggs? To get laying hens you must have fertile eggs and half of the eggs will hatch into male chicks. These are killed at once (by gassing, crushing, suffocation, decompression, or drowning), or raised as "table birds" (usually in broiler houses) and slaughtered as soon as they reach an economic weight. So, for every free-range hen scratching around the garden or farm (who, if she were able to bargain, might pay rent with her daily infertile egg), a corresponding male from her batch is enduring life in a broiler house or has already been subjected to slaughter or thrown away to die. Every year in Britain alone, more than 35 million day-old male chicks are killed. They are mainly used for fertilizer or dumped in landfill sites. The hens are slaughtered as soon as their production drops (usually after two years; their natural life span is 5-7 years). Also, be aware that many sites classified as free-range aren't really free-range; they are just massive barns with access to the outside. Since the food and light are inside, the hens rarely venture outside. MT

SEE ALSO: #13, #49-#50, #52