Does 'cage-free' mean a better life for chickens?

Story highlights

  • It's not clear which living conditions are the best for fowl
  • Egg production has been a key target of animal welfare initiatives

Massachusetts is the latest state to vote on a ballot initiative to increase the amount of space that animals are allowed in industrial food production systems.

It prohibits keeping pigs, cows and egg-laying hens in tight confinement (PDF) that "prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely."
You might think its passage is a major moral victory, at least for chickens, but is it? As a philosophy professor who's worked on food issues for my entire career, I've come to believe that questions of animal welfare are more complicated than they seem at first glance.