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."
I urge you to revise your standards for laying hens to:
1. Ban any and all surgical alterations, including beak-trimming and cauterization. Cannibalization is not a natural feature of a healthy flock; it is a sign that there are serious flaws in the way birds are being confined and/or managed.
2. Require outdoor ranging space - enough for each bird to comfortably forage at will. Chickens simply cannot perform their full range of natural behaviors without access to forage.
3. Increase the amount of floor space allotted to each bird. A foot and a half is simply not enough room for birds to move about and interact with one another naturally. If you're looking for a primary cause of cannibalization, look no further!
I and countless others appreciate your dedication to the well-being of livestock - but your standards are failing laying hens. Please revise your standards and assist your producers in making the requisite changes to improve the quality of life of the birds in their care.