Let's Talk Eggs!
When it comes to eggs, you will see and hear a lot of buzz-words and see a lot of different labels. You might see or hear things like, “certified organic”, “cage-free”, “farm-fresh”, “pasture-raised” … and on and on. It can be quite confusing but more importantly, what do these terms mean, really? The very fact we have to define these terms is, in and of itself, a bit insane! How are we to know what kind of egg are best of our family? By taking a closer look at what these labels actually mean and learning their definitions, we can make informed and responsible decisions regarding the food we put in our mouths.
- Certified Organic
We are starting with this one because it is the only label the US government has set definitions and requirements for … and that is only for the chicken-feed. Per requirements by the USDA’s National Organic Program, the feed is to be organic, vegetarian, have no GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and free of pesticides and antibiotics. That sounds great but Organic does not necessarily mean humane. The Organic label allows for beak cutting and forced-molting (this is to keep the chickens laying). This also does not mean the hens are out roaming the country side so unfortunately, even with the label of Certified Organic, it only means the eggs are ideal but the living conditions for the hens may not be.
This label means the hens do not live in cages. They usually live in massive industrial barns that house thousands of birds who never go outside (ref: Google). Each bird has, on average, 1 square foot of space. No regulations exist for this label. This is nothing more than Marketing.
This label means the eggs are produced from birds that may be permitted outdoors. The term “free-range” may be used differently depending on the country and the relevant laws (ref: Wikipedia). Free-range hens have an indoor space connected to an outdoor space. This does not mean they are roaming around freely. Like “cage-free,” no independent body exists to certify the hens are receiving adequate access to the outdoors and the USDA has set no standards for using the term (ref: Organic Life). This term is nothing more than Marketing.
This label means the eggs are from hens that are fed a soy-free diet. Eggs from chickens fed a soy-based feed contain soy and therefore, poses a threat to those with a soy allergy. Once again, there are no regulations for this label which makes this … you guessed it … Marketing!
- No Hormones
This label is a bit misleading because US Federal Law prohibits the use of hormones in the egg industry. If regulations are properly followed, all eggs should be free from hormones since using them is against the law. This term is nothing more than Marketing.
- Vegetarian Diet
This label is perhaps the most confusing of the bunch because chickens, by nature, are not vegetarians; they are omnivores. In the wild, chickens get most of their protein from worms, grasshoppers and other insects. Hens that are fed a “vegetarian diet” are probably eating corn and/or soy. Corn and soy are the top-two GMO crops in the world so unless they also hold the Certified Organic label, this diet is full of GMOs and not what the bird would naturally eat.
This means the hens are probably given a bit of flax-seed mixed in with their corn feed (ref: The Salt).
- Farm Fresh and/or Natural
These labels mean absolutely nothing; it’s just a Marketing gimmick.
- Pasture-Raised and/or Pastured
This is the best in terms of replicating the chickens’ natural environment and way of life. Pasture-raised birds spend most of their life outdoors with a fair amount of space plus access to a barn. Many are able to eat a diet of worms, insects and grasshoppers, along with corn feed – which may or may not be organic (ref: The Salt). Once again, however, there is no legal definition of the term “pastured,” so buying eggs with this label is at your own risk (ref: foodhacks).
- No Antibiotics
Once again, this is misleading because antibiotics are rarely used in the egg industry. Chickens that are raised for their meat, on the other hand, do commonly get antibiotics to fend off disease and increase animal growth (ref: The Salt).
No third-party inspections are required to ensure hens are roaming around a grassy pasture. In addition, farms with less than 3,000 hens are not inspected by the USDA or the FDA (ref: UEP Certified) but if you are buying eggs from a local farmer, you can ask them! You can also see for yourself how the animals are being raised, what they are eating and whether they have been treated with antibiotics. Always buy from a farmer you know and trust.
The two labels you want to pay attention to are:
- Certified Organic
Buying eggs that are Certified Organic ensures the eggs are not full of GMOs, antibiotics and pesticides.
Buying eggs from pasture-raised birds ensures their living environment closely matches how nature intended.
The other labels you see on egg cartons are nothing more than Marketing or Marketing gimmicks.
In summary, the best eggs are Certified Organic and from pasture-raised birds, which is why buying from your local farmer is always best.
We here at Green ‘Livin’ Girls hope this has helped you become more informed about eggs. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments.