SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court recently rejected a lawsuit that would have required labels on egg cartons to indicate the type of housing the chickens were raised in.

According to an Associated Press report, three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal agencies were reasonable in rejecting the labeling regulations. The ruling was filed Feb. 27.

“The FDA has not defined the terms 'cage-free,' 'free range,' 'free roaming.' However, such label statements must be truthful and not misleading under section 403(a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,” Deborah Kotz, spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, told the Northern California Record.

Plaintiffs in the case included animal-rights groups Compassion Over Killing and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. They brought the lawsuit against the FDA, Agriculture Marketing Service and Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“The court’s decision leaves the public in the dark regarding the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens, and consumers at the mercy of dishonest egg marketers,” Kelsey Eberly, attorney for the Animal League Defense Fund, told the Northern California Record. “Without uniform disclosures on egg cartons to indicate whether hens are kept in cages, companies that use battery cages may mislead consumers into believing they provide egg-laying hens humane living conditions, with specious marketing claims like 'animal friendly' or 'natural,' or with imagery of happy hens frolicking in green fields.

“Failure to disclose the caging of egg-laying hens also prevents consumers from making safer food choices; eggs from battery-cage facilities have been found to carry a higher risk of being contaminated with salmonella versus eggs from cage-free or free range hens.”

When the judges ruled in favor of the federal agencies, the opinion included an FDA explanation that “consumer interest in the hens’ living conditions, alone, is insufficient to establish that egg-production methods are a material fact that would permit the FDA to issue the requested regulations.”

Eberly expressed disappointment in the ruling and cited the importance of egg labeling for consumers.

“Battery cages cause immense animal suffering due to the cramped and unsanitary conditions they provide egg-laying hens, with birds stacked row upon row in barren wire cages, at the mercy of aggressive cage-mates and vulnerable to sickness and premature death,” Eberly said. “Such environments also put consumer health at risk through increased risk of food-borne illness. Truthful labels on egg cartons empower consumers to choose safer, more humane eggs.

“The Animal Legal Defense Fund is staunchly committed to truth in egg labeling, and will continue to police the market to ensure that factory farm producers are held accountable for hoodwinking consumers with false 'humane' claims.”

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