How consumers can sort out confusing labels when buying chicken


By Pam Lewison, Washington Policy Center (WA)

Aug 4, 2022


My husband and I recently got into a discussion about the differences in the labeling of chicken. He saw a post on social media outlining the supposed differences between “pasture raised,” “cage raised,” “cage free,” and “free range.”


It is easy to get caught up in the virtuous marketing of “pasture raised,” “cage free,” and “free range” versus “cage raised.” It is easy to imagine flocks of chickens strutting through pristine green fields and foraging for their food, but too often food labeling is deceptive.


The social media post offered the following definitions:


·         “Pasture raised” – requires hens to hunt, peck, & graze for a natural diet

·         “Cage raised” – no regulations for antibiotics or feed; usually fed GMO grains

·         “Cage free” – no cages, but no access to sunlight or the outdoors; no feed or antibiotics regulations

·         “Free range” – no cages plus minimal access to outdoors (tiny concrete slab or small door); no feed or antibiotic regulations


What are the facts?


“Cage raised”


There is no U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition, but “cage raised” likely means chickens are housed with enough space to move around, given access to unlimited water and food, and free to generally be domestically bred chickens.


Other definitions from the USDA are not quite as advertised online.


“Pasture raised”


There is no definition for “pasture raised” livestock according to USDA regulations because there are too many variables to consider. Some of the variables might include amount of space, available food sources, partial or full shelter access, and more.


“Cage free" ...


“Free range” ...