Free Range Hens May Not Be So Free

Animal rights activists failed to convince a federal judge to require egg producers to label their egg cartons more clearly about how they treat their checks and whether they use “battery cage systems.”

U.S. District Judge Vice Chhabria rejected a summary judgment request Wednesday by the Compassion Over Killing group, which wanted to see eggs labeled as “free range,” cage free” or “eggs from caged hens.”

The group argued the current labeling is misleaded because it uses phrases or images that suggest hens are raised in outdoor conditions and move freely, when they may be confined to battery cages that prevent them from moving.

The Food and Drug Administration said that it is not authorized to regulate egg labeling based on animal welfare, but is limited to safety and nutrition issues.

Chhabria sided with the agency and said the court must defer to the agency’s discretionary decision.

The same was true for the Federal Trade Commission on the issue of labeling regulation.  The court “cannot disturb the FTC’s discretionary decision to refrain from promulgating a rule, even if reasonable minds could differ about the impact and prevalence of the potentially deceptive labels,” he wrote.

The agencies’ refusal to initiate rules that the group preferred was not “arbitrary and capricious” and thus the court could not alter them.

Case:  Compassion over Killing v. FDA, No. 13-cv-1385VC


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