Eggs: Label confusion and defintions

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.

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.

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.

Organic eggs are laid from hens that may be kept in any kind of caging system, but generally are cage free. They eat an organic feed and don’t receive vaccines or antibiotics.

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.

Watch The Story of an Egg on PBS. See more from The Lexicon of Sustainability.

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About Felicia

Hello, I am Felicia and I am one of the founding members of Health Now, Wealth Forever. When we came up with the concept of starting our family business, I was enthusiastic just to spend time working on a project with my family. But, as we have grown and expanded, my passion for educating myself and others - about alternative health options and changing the way we view finances and life - has taken over. While I admit I am not the healthiest of our group, I am working on it daily and hope that the articles I write help you to work on it with me. Thank you for supporting us and allowing us to open our minds and yours to an alternative way of look at health, wealth and life!

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