Understanding Labels: What’s the Real Deal on Egg Production Systems

When you buy a carton of eggs at the grocery store, you’re confronted with various labels like “conventional eggs,” “enriched colonies,” “free-range,” “free-range,” and “organic.” But do you know what these labels mean for the hens that lay these eggs? Do they mean the chickens have a better life, or are they just marketing tactics?

Let’s explore the truth behind these labels on Canadian egg cartons.

Battery cages

Battery cages (conventional cages or regular eggs) are used on a staggering 51.17% of chickens in Canada. These wire cages are so small that the chickens can barely walk and don’t even have space to spread their wings. Each hen has a space about the size of a sheet of paper and cannot engage in any normal behaviors such as dust bathing, perching, scratching or nesting.

Cramped spaces often cause chickens to injure themselves on wire floors. It is very common for chickens to die in battery cages, and they are often left to decompose for days or weeks alongside live chickens still producing eggs.

“Enriched” battery cages

“Enriched” battery cages (“enriched colony housing”, “enriched” colonies, furnished housing or “enriched” eggs) are used for 31.58% of hens. “Enriched” battery cages are touted as an improvement over battery cages. But the truth is that they are barely distinguishable.

These larger cages house 10 to 100 chickens and offer limited “enrichments” like perches and scratching posts, but fail to address the fundamental problems. Chickens in “enriched” cages still tolerate wire flooring and suffer from stress, disease, severe feather loss and weakened bones due to lack of movement. They also still have the tips of their beaks clipped, to reduce pecking injuries.


Cage-free chickens (free-range eggs, aviary or barn eggs) represent only 10.84% ​​of chickens. In these systems, the hens have free access to the entire building, which can be a single or multi-level aviary. They may engage in some of their natural behaviors, such as perching, taking small flights, and dust bathing on the floor of the litter box. Nest boxes are provided, allowing them to exhibit their nesting instincts, and they can form their own smaller flocks and hierarchies.


Free-range hens represent only 1.36% of the industry. In addition to being cage-free, free-range systems allow hens to access the outdoors to engage in more natural behaviors like foraging and sunbathing, weather permitting.


Organic eggs, which represent up to 5.06% of hens, must follow organic standards that prohibit cages. Similar to free-range systems, hens raised to produce organic eggs are also allowed access to the outdoors when weather permits and have additional organic feed requirements.

Unfortunately, Canada does not regulate the conditions of hens used on egg farms. Canada does not have a law establishing specific standards for each system. There is no law on the space that hens must have in an egg farm, the maximum number of hens per hen house, the types of enrichment they must benefit from, the size of outdoor spaces or any other measure aimed at to protect the welfare of hens. Labeling terms like “cage-free” or “free-range” are also not overseen by the government, making their labels unverifiable and difficult to trust.

All egg production, including cage and cage-free systems, causes inherent suffering. Male chicks are considered a byproduct of the egg industry and are unwanted because they cannot lay eggs. They are often killed immediately after hatching, usually ground up alive in industrial macerators.

In the wild, chickens can live five to 11 years, but in the egg industry they only last a year or two. Eventually, their bodies give out because they become exhausted from constantly laying an unnatural number of eggs. When their productivity decreases, hens are killed to make way for more productive birds. Sometimes they are sent to the slaughterhouse and end up as chicken nuggets or pet food, and other times they are simply gassed to death in barns.

To learn more about cruelty-free options, visit our Egg Alternatives page, where we explore substitutes that align with compassionate choices.

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