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What are Free Range Meats?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Free range meats are cuts of meat from animals that are allowed unlimited access to pastures, rather than being kept in close and some say, inhumane, small pens. This includes meat from cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. In the past, particularly poultry were subject to living in very tightly enclosed spaces. Now, free range chicken comes from animals that are allowed a much greater space to roam, although they still may be in large enclosed hen or chicken houses.

Meats cannot be called free range unless animal breeders follow guidelines set forth by the government in which they are being sold. For example, the US Department of Agriculture controls these guidelines in the US. Sometimes, others criticize these rules as still being considered cruel.

The free range meat laws for chickens, for example, merely states that chickens must be allowed to go outside. Laws for eggs from chickens considered free range are non-existent, however. Some grocery stores have come under fire from animal rights activists when it was discovered that their free range eggs were laid by chickens that were kept in pens slightly larger than those that housed non-free range chickens, but their movement was still restricted.

Animal rights activists quickly sent word to others to boycott eggs from these stores. The stores have attempted to negotiate contracts with farmers who would provide eggs from chickens that are allowed more space. This type of problem could be avoided in the future with more clearly defined laws from the Department of Agriculture.

The specific guidelines from the Department of Agriculture for other animals are more clear-cut. Cattle and sheep must be given continuous access to a pasture, and can never be locked in a feedlot. Pigs cannot be confined in a feedlot for more than 20% of their lives. When farmers meet these conditions, they can market the meat derived from these animals as free range.

Some shoppers have concerns about purchasing free range meats because they may be more subject to diseases. In the recent upsurge of bird flu cases, some people are very concerned about free range chicken or other poultry. The inability to confine the animals in order to satisfy the law is a current concern. Advocates of free range meats feel that the benefit to the animals far outweighs the risk of them contracting diseases.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon141016 — On Jan 09, 2011

Anytime you have overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, it is a breeding ground for bacteria. Viruses also are easily spread in these conditions.

In a pasture, where air is freely flowing and the animals are not in close contact, the risk of the breeding and transmission of disease greatly decreases. I am in the medical field and this is basic knowledge when applying it to humans. For animals there is no difference. Consumers need to seek education and not believe what we are fed by the media which is directed by large corporations and policymakers who have a financial stake in what we eat.

We need to know what we introduce into our bodies and be active participants in maintaining our own health.

By Fiorite — On Oct 09, 2010

@ Chicada- You have been fed some serious disinformation my friend. Regardless of your feelings towards the animals that you eat, you are more likely to get sick form a factory farmed animal than a free-range animal.

Rodents and harmful bacteria from decaying animals and feces can more easily infect animals locked in a confined pen with poor ventilation than an animal that is on the open range. Furthermore, sick animals will naturally isolate themselves form the herd, or the herd will isolate themselves from the sick animal. Where does a cow with mad cow disease go in a pen with a thousand other cows? How do you spot the one downer cow in a thousand in a timely manner? When one chicken with bird flu is trapped in a barn with 5,000 other chickens, what happens?

By chicada — On Oct 09, 2010

@ Fiorite- Free-range beef cattle and chickens are more likely to be contaminated by outside disease into the herd or flock. Animals can infiltrate the ranchers stocks and infect them with wild diseases. Factory farmed animals aren't treated the best, but I am not so concerned with the way my food is treated. They are all killed in the end, and I would rather worry about my and my family's health than the happiness of a cow or chicken.

By Fiorite — On Oct 09, 2010

Free-range animals are less likely to catch diseases. In fact, they are less likely to catch diseases. This is simply a myth made up by the factory farm industry to try and scare consumers away from buying free-range meats. Factory farmed animals live in such confined spaces that they often acquire disease before they can be culled from the herd or flock. In addition, the stress of confinement has a negative impact on the immune system of the animals. This is why these animals need antibiotics.

Free range animals can be isolated form the herd before an outbreak occurs whereas confined animals are often not discovered to be sick until they are dying or dead on the floor of their pen, already affecting the herd. I grew up in farm country, and I never saw a downer cow that lived in a field, but go to a factory farm and they are having people in hazmat suits haul away downer cows twice a week. These diseased and dead animals are simply left on the edge of the farm to rot in the sun until someone hauls them away. I think I will keep eating my free-range meats, taking my chances with the "risk".

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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