Yesterday I was buying eggs at my grocery store and was overwhelmed by the choices. I know you are thinking what choices, eggs are eggs but the when I looked at the egg section there were cage free, free range, organic cage free, organic free range, pastured eggs and regular eggs. What do these terms mean? My research begins… Regular eggs, by this I mean there is nothing on the carton that explains how the chickens are fed or raised, are factory farmed eggs.
In a typical factory farming system (see “United Egg Producers Certified” below), hens have 67 square inches of cage space per bird. This is less area than a sheet of paper. (Imagine living your whole life confined to an area the size of a stand-up shower.) The hens are confined in restrictive, barren battery cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including spreading their wings.
They are also routinely given antibiotics (a must, given their slum-like, unsanitary living conditions), which leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, ever-increasing salmonella outbreaks and recalls, and cross-contamination of these bacteria with humans. Hens are also fed other dietary additives (including arsenic) to prevent disease.
Cage Free eggs mean the chickens are not kept in cages but that does not mean their lives are better. Often the chickens are packed into dark warehouses and still forced to endure beak cutting, forced molting and living in their own bodily wastes. There is no regulation on the feed they are fed which can be laced with animal by products and antibiotics. Here is an informative slide show. http://www.humanemyth.org/cagefree.htm
Cage-Free: Note, there is no legal definition for this term. Hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are un-caged and generally have a bit more space than battery-caged hens. But they’re still crammed inside barns or warehouses, are unable to exhibit their normal, natural behaviors, and generally are without any access to the outdoors. Beak cutting is permitted, and the term “cage-free” says nothing of the hens’ diets, or whether they are given antibiotics or other additives. In addition, there is no third-party auditing of this system.
Free range eggs mean that there is an opportunity for the chickens to go outside. Great right? Imagine being in a packed stadium and there is only one small exit. That is the corporate definition of free range. Again the chickens are subjected to beak cutting and there is no regulation on the feed that they eat.
“Free-Range or Free-Roaming: The USDA has defined no “free-range” standards, and allows egg producers to freely label any egg as such. Typically, free-range hens are un-caged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access. (However, we’ve already mentioned what that “outdoor access” could mean.) As Jonathan Safran Foer says in Eating Animals, “I could keep a flock of hens under my sink and call them free-range.”
Organic eggs mean that the food that the chickens eat has to be free of antibiotics, animal by products and that the food they are fed as to be free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Organic does not define how the chickens are housed, caged or otherwise.
Pastured eggs mean that the chickens are outdoors for most of their lives, usually this label is coupled with organic. The chickens are allowed to be chickens! Amazing!
Advocates of pastured eggs believe that the chickens are happier and healthier, and nutritional analysis has shown that pastured eggs are also richer in useful nutritious elements like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C. Usually used in conjunction with “organic”, indicating that the hens are fed an organic diet, and aren’t given antibiotics or exposed to synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. These two elements combined (“pastured” + “organic”) are a “best choice”.
I noticed that as the labels changed that the prices went up, regular being the cheapest and pastured being the most expensive, at least in the store I was shopping in. I encourage you to explore your egg options; farmer’s markets, local farms, your neighbors with the rooster that wakes you up. Or buy your own chickens is you desire.
Here is a wonderful, short video about the egg.
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