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Cracking the code on eggs: cage-free, free-range, and pastured

Cracking the code on eggs: cage-free, free-range, and pastured

As you probably know by now, we recently expanded our product line to include non-meat bars. The Performance Bar is made of less than six ingredients including nuts, dried fruit, and cage-free egg whites. We know cage-free is a less-than-perfect way to raise chickens. In our efforts to provide transparency, we want to break down the different classifications of eggs so you know exactly what you’re getting—whether that be in our products or when you’re choosing fresh eggs at the grocery store.

Conventional: You likely won’t find a carton with this label, but if there’s no designation then you can assume the eggs are conventional. This means the hens were raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), where hens spend their short lives crammed into battery cages and may never see sunlight. While battery cages have been banned in the European Union, an estimated 94 percent of commercial eggs in the U.S. come from hens under these conditions.

Dr Lesley Rogers, Professor of Zoology at the University of New England, states:

“Chickens in battery cages are cramped in overcrowded conditions. Apart from restricted movement, they have few or no opportunities for decision-making and control over their own lives...These are just some examples of the impoverishment of their environment.”

On average, each hen only has 67 square inches (less than a regular sheet of paper) of cage space, which is not enough to live or lay their eggs in comfort. Also, you can assume eggs labeled as “farm fresh,” “vegetarian-fed,” or “omega-3 enriched” fall under this category, since these indicate nothing about the welfare of the hens.

Cage-free: Thankfully, opposition to the inhumane CAFOs has pushed many egg producers to transition to cage-free systems. Since they are not confined to cages, hens are able to walk, spread their wings, and lay their eggs in nests. With the launch of our performance bars, we were able to convert three egg suppliers from conventional to cage-free. While we are proud of this progress, these hens are not guaranteed ample space or outdoor access. That’s why we’re committed to continuing our efforts until our suppliers raise their chickens in pastures.

Free-range: This is a huge step up since free-range chickens not only are cage-free but also get some outdoor access. However, this doesn’t mean the chickens actually ever step foot outside, and access can vary from a screened-in porch to an open field.

Organic: Certified organic eggs are given exclusively organic feed free of antibiotics and pesticides. The hens are also required to have some outdoor access. This is the only designation closely monitored by the USDA.

Pasture-raised: Pastured hens live in a way that closely resembles their natural habitat. Unlike the above designations, these hens eat grass, insects, and worms in addition to feed. Typically, they are let outside in the early morning and put back in the barns before sundown. Therefore, they usually enjoy the most freedom and space. This is how chickens are raised at ROAM Ranch. We realize this is the ideal way to raise all chickens, but there are currently supply chain constraints that prevent sourcing enough pastured eggs to use in our Performance Bars. With enough demand, we hope to change this.

So, how can you ensure that you’re getting eggs from hens that lived a good life? Except for “certified organic,” the U.S. government does not set definitions or requirements for egg carton labels. Your best bet is to head to your local farmers market or buy eggs from friends who have chickens in their backyards. Then you can ask the owners themselves under what conditions the hens are raised.

While we recognize the flaws in this system, we also saw this as an opportunity to make an impact on the egg industry. How? Well, we already fought for the hens used in the production of the egg whites used in the Performance Bars to be raised without cages and fed non-GMO feed. We know this is a small step—but definitely one in the right direction. We think participation and activism is the first step to change. You should feel good about the eggs you eat, and we will continue to provide updates on our suppliers and supply chain improvements.


  1. United Egg Producers 2016 Edition
  2. HSUS Synopsis of Expert Opinions on Battery Cages
  3. Humane Society Cage-Free vs. Battery-Caged Eggs
  4. Humane Society Cage-Free vs. Battery-Caged Eggs
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