When you see a "Certified Humane" label, you don't imagine a massive barn packed with thousands of hens. You don't imagine the birds having their beaks trimmed and cauterized to prevent them from cannibalizing one another, a problem almost never encountered in healthy, free-roaming flocks. Until their standards are revised, this may well be what you're paying for when you buy "Certified Humane" eggs.
In many ways, the Certified Humane non-profit has made a difference in the lives of laying hens. By forbidding the use of cages and requiring that their producers provide perches and dustbathing litter for vital "comfort behaviors," they've ensured that these birds have a much higher quality of life than their factory-farmed counterparts. But the standards reveal several startling blind spots: So-called "Certified Humane" chicks may have their beaks cut and cauterized with a hot blade to prevent cannibalization, a hallmark problem of overcrowded, confined flocks. As adults, these hens may have as little as 1 to 1.5 square feet of floor space. There is no requirement for outdoor access - "Certified Humane" chickens may live out their entire lives without ever seeing sunlight or a blade of grass.
This isn't the way it has to be. Other humane labeling organizations, such as Animal Welfare Approved, require that hens never be surgically altered and always have free access to plenty of foraging space outdoors. This is the way these animals ought to live. As Will Harris of White Oak Pastures puts it, "If you would like to open up a lawn chair and drink a couple of glasses of wine while you watch the animal, then you have good animal welfare."