EOM’s main premise when it comes to eating animals ethically is really quite simple.
- The animal must live as natural a life as possible.
- Humanely raised, with possibly more safety and comfort than it would have in nature, under the care of the farmer/rancher that has them in his/her possession.
- Fed biologically appropriate food for its species.
- Age of the animal is unimportant at time of death if the above conditions are met. However, the dispatching of the animal must be swift and stress free. This includes the transportation of the animal to its final destination.
See? Quite simple. You can of course do whatever you like with your animals but these are OUR stead fast guidelines, and they help us to maintain the integrity of our message. Because of this, I would like to see a change in legislation that would lead to the honest definition and execution of what FREE RANGE should mean when it comes to Poultry, not some self serving, bastardized version of the term. If your chickens, turkeys are in a barn all of their lives and have never roamed freely outside in the grass, ate bugs, or scratched in the dirt then I am sorry (well, no, I’m not) you have no right labeling them as FREE RANGE. If your chickens have a little extra room more than a factory farmed chicken, or have a tiny bit of bare dirt to pathetically make their way to over the heads and beaks and backs of their cell mates..then nope.. still not free range. If you need a measuring stick to make sure you fall under the bare minimum, poorly specified government guidelines, then.. yes you got it.. still not free range! These unfortunate beasts are just factory farmed chickens with a little extra room than the other factory farmed chickens or with a little bit more outside dirt than some other factory farmed chickens, but again, they are NOT FREE ON THE RANGE chickens.. or turkeys, etc. Not according to OUR standards anyway. Period.
.AND when did we consider this to be FREE RANGE for our food birds and/or egg layers??? When did we ALLOW this to slip past our notice?? When did we, the consumer, decide that this was OK AND allow ourselves to be stupid enough to still pay premium prices?
And if you still can’t find a way to get your “free range” chickens out on the range to be free let’s be transparent about it and cut your customers a financial break at very least… You can’t have it both ways.. Just sayin. And just because you can… SHOULD YOU?? I think this is almost more detestable than “ignorantly” or purposefully eating factory farmed birds for two reasons. First one is that we have not done our due diligence in investigating the source of our food and label definitions. If we are conscientious enough to reach for the “FREE RANGE” label we had better get on the internet and/or better yet get to the farm/ranch if possible. Failing these two options.. get on the phone and ask some important questions. Here is a great and comprehensive piece on how to go about just that: Ethical Foods – How to buy sustainable poultry
Most of us who call ourselves “Ethical Omnivores” have come to this path through investigation into the factory farm paradigm and/or because as vegetarians/vegans our health was not optimal. We are VERY aware of factory farm conditions and choose the EOM path with much care and attention to details such as where, when, why and how we chose our food and vet our suppliers. This is no easy task I assure you. For me personally I appreciate this process to be one of full disclosure and transparency to make my decisions easier. It is hard enough for someone like me who KNOWS what to look for, I cannot imagine how hard and confusing it is for someone newly on this path
Why you ask is there a need for this extra leg work? Here is why:
This is a description from a website of an industry leader in pasture based ranching that sells chickens with the Free Range label that live their lives in a barn with no access to outdoors and Turkeys that have a small bit of dirt outside but no real range per se. Notice the wording on each. What I find incredibly interesting is that they even have the nerve to criticize other “mainstream” free range??? Seriously?
“It takes almost twice as long to raise a free-range chicken for our program than conventionally raised birds. We raise our chickens in smaller flocks where they enjoy at least twice the space an organically raised bird is given. This extra space allows them the freedom to move and socialize more naturally.
Taking extra time to grow our birds allows them to develop a wonderful flavour. Many of our customers say that our chicken brings back memories of home and visiting Grandma on the family farm. So take this opportunity to reconnect with the past and savour our delicious free-range chickens.
All chickens and turkeys in our program have been raised humanely and ethically. They never receive antibiotics, artificial growth hormones or animal by-products. They are supplemented with a quality feed mix that is enriched with vitamins and trace minerals, and are processed in a provincially inspected facility. Their flavour is outstanding and cannot be compared to (mainstream free-range birds).”
“Fresh air, sunshine, clean water and nutritious grains make our free-range turkeys succulent and delicious — but they are a limited offering, so order yours today!”
Honestly this is the wishy, washy, term manipulation that makes our movement look fraudulent, with much to hide. It also makes it incredibly hard to defend against when push comes to shove with our accusers both in the vegan community AND the Big Ag one. It’s hard enough defending our cause without muck and mire and innuendo to wade through.
When I first bought TRULY free range chickens in the late 90’s they ran out of chickens after their summer slaughter and that was that. While I want our farmers and ranchers to prosper I also want our integrity as a movement to as well. Meat should be as seasonal as the local vegetation we should be endeavoring to purchase on a regular basis.
NOW on the bright side. Are there producers out there faithful to a true pasture based model? Thank all things true and just YES there is. I would like to spotlight one of them here today. Will Harris, his family and his amazing team are a ranch White Oak Pastures that we can all rest assured is a beacon of light for us and our movement. Note the key phrase here PASTURE BASED. This is what Will Harris and his family and team on White Oak Pastures refer to their agricultural model as. Free range and free run really are not to be trusted as you can now hopefully tell.
I can’t say enough about White Oak Pastures overall model. First off, they are the only grass farm in the U.S. with an on farm abattoir for pastured red meat animals and a USDA inspected poultry abattoir for pastured poultry. The red meat abattoir currently harvest just under 7,000 grassfed cows, 2,000 grassfed lambs and over 400 pastured pigs a year. The farm has 740 heifers and all of the calves are grown out for harvest. The rest is made up of grassfed calves from neighboring farms. The poultry abattoir harvests 1,000 chickens a day plus ducks, geese, turkeys and guineas. They currently sell 6,000 turkeys, 2,000 ducks and 1,000 geese a year. Both of the abattoirs are largely solar powered and the wash water is solar heated. Waste water is used to irrigate pastures. The hides are tanned, the blood and viscera are spread on the pastures, the bones are ground down into bone meal and the fat is made into biodiesel to run the farms tractors.The 6,000 laying hens are allowed to be completely free range during the day and the houses are moved on a weekly bases. They have five acres of organic gardens, fruit and nut trees and have just added 1,000 meat goats. There is an on farm restaurant and five cabins for lodging. They employee 110 people.
The most amazing thing is that White Oak Pastures is completely sustainable and environmentally sound. They are completely pasture based and practice holistic land management. So when Big AG says it can’t be done like this, they are wrong. Ranches can feed lots of people using ethical practices, White Oak Pastures proves it. We are in constant awe of them and because of them we KNOW our movement and all in it have hope of a bright new future that can be factory farm free. THIS is why we must maintain the integrity of our movement by supporting and endorsing those who strive for excellence not corner cutting and “hog washing” We also understand what a tough life it is to succeed in this industry but as consumers we ask for honesty, integrity and transparency so we know where we stand and where you the producers stand.
Take a look at this wonderful video called “Free Bird” starring the man himself.. Will Harris
Just to further make my point I would like to share a video from Compassion in World farming about a Factory Farm chicken farmer who speaks out and what you can do about helping your own grocery store make more humane choices for you the customer. Having said that.. we always suggest you “Know your Farmer, Know your Food!”
In conclusion: YES we eat animals and sadly we do have to defend that decision and many times have to come to terms with that within ourselves, BUT it can and has to be done properly. As a former vegan I am absolutely at peace with this important decision I have made for my HEALTH, for animal WELFARE, for SUSTAINABILITY and to keep ethical, integrity based producers in business. SADLY this takes like all things of importance in our lives.. due diligence. I hope this article has helped shed some light on the issue, helped you make better choices and has also given you some hope that things out there are being done RIGHT!
Thank you for shedding some light on this matter. I for one would like to see the rules around the term “free range” changed to reflect what those words lead us to believe. I hate that I was paying top dollar for barn raised chickens from a farm that I trusted all because I believed free range meant free on the range. Now I know better and will do better but a lot of people will continue to be sacked in thinking they are doing a good thing. Not fair at all.
Great article. I wish I lived near White Oak 🙂 (different hemisphere unfortunate lyrics lol)
That darned spell checking, right? LOL!
Wonderful article! I am thrilled to read these accolades for White Oak Pastures. I have been getting beef, chicken, turkey, and pork from them for a few years now. It is wonderful food and the people I have had contact with there are extremely nice! I feel so very lucky to be able to purchase from them because of their concerns for the welfare of the animals and the environment, and I hope they’ll be around many years to come! We need more farms like this all across the country.
Thank you so much for stopping by Pat! And we cannot agree more about White Oak Pastures. I hope to get out to see those fine folks before long!
Lana, well said. Now, for action. Without customers, businesses do not survive. We are the customers, and we have more power than we imagine, if we choose to wield it. But so far, we’ve barely touched it. Just look at all the GMO labeling legislation that has failed. We had a chance to get our food labeled, but we actually elected not to.
The fact is, poultry produced sustainably, truly free range, humanely raised and slaughtered, is going to cost more than faux free range birds or eggs. So far, I’ve seen that it costs a lot more (sometimes double)…not just a little more. Many people will pay a couple dollars here and there, but $30 for a chicken? A lot of people will settle for the $20 chicken that is organic, but faux free range.
Of course, I say spend more and eat less if you have to.
Since it seems we have not been able to organize ourselves sufficiently in the political arena to get our food clearly labeled, we have to do this individually, and then as communities, such as on this website. We have to take the time to find local ranchers who meet our standards. The best way to do this is to call or email them. Or you can meet them in person at your local farmers market. If you are lucky, you will have an ethically minded butcher nearby so you don’t have to deal with supermarket (even the supposedly high welfare ones) meat. The wonderful thing is that once you find a few local ranchers and sources, you don’t have to think too much about it. The work is done. After that, you should definitely share this information online and with your friends so that the ones who are not inclined to take the time to do it may just take your recommendation.
If you find a good butcher or rancher, support them. These people could make plenty of money doing just-a-little-better-than-conventional, but instead they do things the right way and have to compete in a market that doesn’t give them the benefit of differentiation. Their costs are higher, their product far superior, yet their chickens sit side by side with the faux, all dressed with the same meaningless free range label, only their price is going to be higher. That is really tough.
Don’t eat miscellaneous meat, poultry, eggs or dairy. And don’t give your money to Just Barely Better. Do your homework, know what to ask and don’t accept vague answers. Your money is your power. Someday your vote will also be your power, but seem to be a few clicks off from that at the moment.
Thank you Tolly and also thank you for putting a great set of guidelines together I was proud to share. I have every intention of making all of our voices heard in the political arena. People are simply to unmotivated to do all the homework necessary and quite honestly they deserve to trust labels for their money so more work needs to be done by those of us with the “you know whats” to do it.