Have you noticed how many types of eggs now grace the shelves at the grocery store? It seems over the last few years, more and more labels are placed on the cartons making it more confusing for those of us trying to buy real food. So let’s take a look at what those labels really mean.
Conventional Eggs (either no special label or one that says “United Egg Producers Certified”) – These eggs come from chickens that are constantly caged, and the cages are smaller than a sheet of paper. Normally fed a diet that consists of both animal and plant material, along with the possibility of antibiotics. The chickens are not allowed out of their cages and they even allow beak cutting for these poor birds.
Cage-Free – Although labeled ‘cage-free’ there are no third party audits done, and nothing to comply to. This normally means that the birds are not caged, but are left to roam a barn or warehouse. They normally do not have access to the outdoors. And since there are no restrictions to using this label other than the fact that they are not confined to a small cage, there is no info on what type of feed they eat. My thinking, is it’s most likely the normal/conventional feed.
Certified Humane – These chickens are also cage free and allowed to roam in a barn or warehouse. The only difference between this label and the cage free label is the fact that humane birds may not be forced to molt by using starvation like the cage-free birds are. There are also requirements for how many chickens/nesting boxes allowed per “house” and it’s checked by a third party.
Certified Organic – Organic chickens must be cage free inside barns or warehouses and have access to the outdoors. Problem is, access doesn’t mean they actually see the outdoors! They must also be fed an all organic, all vegetarian, no pesticides, no antibiotics diet. Though they can be forced to molt through starvation. Third party auditing is done to make sure a farm complies to all standards.
Fertile – Means the eggs came from a hen who was housed with roosters. Most of the time it also means they were cage free.
Free range – You’d think this means that the chickens are allowed to wander outside right? Think again. The USDA actually has no standards for free range eggs, it’s a completely unregulated marketing label. Typically though, they are uncaged inside a barn or warehouse and have “access” to the outdoors. Whether or not they see the outdoors is a different story. And they quality of the ground they may get to walk on des not have any standards attached to it either. Feed is also not standardized and they can be forced to molt through starvation. No third party audits are done.
Free roaming – Same as free range. Basically means they are cage free, and no audits are done.
Natural – Has absolutely no meaning what so ever and no relevance to animal welfare. If you’re buying these eggs just because it says natural (and nothing else), you’re probably overpaying for conventional eggs.
Omega-3 Enriched – This label also contains no meaning and has no relevance to animal welfare. Although farms would state that it’s because the chickens are fed a diet higher in flax, but most studies show there is no real difference in omega 3 fats because of this.
Vegetarian fed – These chickens are fed a more natural diet consisting of only plant material, but yet has no relevance on the actual living conditions.
Farm raised – Yea, means they were raised on a farm! But what farm?
So basically, when it all comes down to it, labels can pretty much mean nothing. So how do you go about buying the best you can afford for your family?
Personally, if I have to buy them from the store I try and buy the farm raised, free range, organic eggs from our health food store. Most of the time I can get these for $2.00 per dozen. If I have to buy at a supermarket, I buy the Certified Organic, free range eggs. But I would much rather buy our eggs from our local farmer! I see the chickens running around, I can see what they eat, and I know they are well taken care of and healthy. Not only are the chickens healthier, but so are their eggs!
I can honestly say the actual difference and taste between a real free range organic egg from a local farm and a conventional egg is quite spectacular! For one, have you ever noticed how each and every egg looks exactly the same when you buy it from the store? That means it comes form an extremely controlled environment. How else could they do it? The eggs I get from the farm are different. Each and every one of them! Some are large, some small, some white, some brown. And some even have a few specks on them. Pretty? Not always, but at least I know the chickens were out and about feeding themselves outside!
A “real” egg also has a much brighter yolk (especially in the summer when allowed to peck away at actual grass, and the white varies slightly in consistency as well. And the taste? Well, the last time I made scrambled eggs out of a conventional egg, I started gagging. So I decided to make the rest of what I had into deviled eggs for Todd. He took one bite and asked me what I did differently because they didn’t taste as good and they were pasty. So yes, there is a difference in eggs! And it’s become one thing on my “must always buy organic and pastured” list.
*as a small added note, did you know that male chicks are slaughtered by the millions each year in hatcheries? Since they are no use to the egg farm, and not bred for meat, they are normally suffocated, ground, or gassed to death.
*oh, and brown vs white? There is no difference other than the fact that they come from different breeds of chickens.
This post is linked to: Fight Back Fridays
We get ours from the backyard 🙂 So, I know exactly what those chickens are eating. Everyone raves about the difference, but I haven’t had a conventional egg in at least three years, so I’m not sure how they compare.
“Vegetarian” is not necessarily good for the chicken. Chickens normally eat bugs, grubs, etc. Best if they can get outside, tho as you clearly state that’s not always easy to ascertain.
I’m lucky enough to get pasture raised chicken eggs at our farmers’ market and at our coop. I don’t trust labels that say organic or free-range or cage free.
We get ours from the backyard too 🙂 I don’t trust the supermarket labels either. We know what our birds are eating- and my 4 boys spend springs and summers collecting extra dandelions and june bugs just for them…
I neglected to add that you should always ask about your egg source’s feed. We buy a GMO-free feed from a local farmer who is into Nourishing Traditions, but our feed has roasted soybeans in it. For us, it’s not a problem, and we are happy to be able to feed our chickens the best feed that we can afford, but a friend of mine prefers the organic soy-free feed from the coop due to her thyroid issues. We have 40 chickens, so that would be cost prohibitive for us, but she has 8 so it works great for her. Just some advice to pass along.
Also, lots of people who free-range their chickens in the yard use the conventional feed, which is highly processed and full of GMO corn. So, it never hurts to ask. And, if the price is too good to be true, there’s probably a good reason for that.
If I’m lucky I can get them from my in-laws, who raise their own chickens with organic feed. Otherwise I buy the organic eggs from Costco or the “local” eggs from the corner store. Although I have no idea what the conditions are at the local farm…I should probably go check it out.
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