Producers and retailers looking for advice on how to equip themselves to go cage free will likely need to turn to one of three independent organizations offering auditing and certification of animal livestock operations.

The groups – the industry group United Egg Producers and animal welfare nonprofits Humane Farm Animal Care and Animal Humane Association – share motivations and agree upon some aspects of cage-free husbandry. However, there are wide differences in the written guidelines they use to certify cage-free operations.

Cage-free-housing-standards-highlights.jpg

All use guidelines written with the help of a committee of experts in animal science to represent the best interests of the animals. The audits are conducted by independent, third-party auditors not employed by the organizations offering certification. All offer a certification label – UEP Certified, Certified Humane and American Humane Certified, respectively – which is often placed on product packaging to promote the certification to consumers.

Adele Douglass, CEO of Humane Farm Animal Care, said her organization’s standards are “very close” to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ cage-free guidelines. Dr. Marion Garcia, chief veterinary officer for the American Humane Association, said AHA's standards are adapted from Council Directive 1999/74/EC, the EU’s law mandating welfare standards for laying hens. UEP drafted its cage-free guidelines in 2006 and includes its recommendations in its animal welfare guidelines.

This Potter’s Poultry cage-free floor housing system features nest boxes where hens can find privacy to lay their eggs. Photo courtesy of Potter’s Poultry.

This Potter’s Poultry cage-free floor housing system features nest boxes where hens can find privacy to lay their eggs. | Courtesy Potter’s Poultry

Cage-free laying systems, like this Tecno Poultry Equipment aviary, include perches so hens can exhibit natural perching behaviors and avoid aggressors when necessary. Photo courtesy of Potter’s Poultry.

Cage-free laying systems, like this Tecno Poultry Equipment aviary, include perches so hens can exhibit natural perching behaviors and avoid aggressors when necessary. | Courtesy Tecno Poultry Equipment

Cage-free laying systems, like the Tecno Poultry Equipment aviary, should allow birds sufficient space to exhibit natural behavior and give them access to enough littered floor area to scratch and dust bathe.

Cage-free laying systems, like the Tecno Poultry Equipment aviary, should allow birds sufficient space to exhibit natural behavior and give them access to enough littered floor area to scratch and dust bathe. | Courtesy Tecno Poultry Equipment

Clarification: The detailed standards for cage-free housing and management practices are available in full online: Humane Farm Animal Care's standards for egg laying hens. The American Humane Association's animal welfare certification standards. The United Egg Producer's animal husbandry guidelines for U.S. egg laying flocks.