Dear Leah Renee,
I get SO confused buying eggs these days! I get frustrated standing there trying to decide and just end up taking whatever one home as long as it’s labeled organic. That’s enough, right? What’s the deal with all the different labels and promises? Thanks! ~Josie, FL
There are so many labels that sound so promising when it comes to eggs! Certified organic, free-range, cage-free, antibiotic free, certified humane, pasture-raised, and even brown versus white. We not only want what’s best for our health, but the chicken’s too! Let’s compare what the two best choices would be: Organic vs. Pasture-Raised.
It’s great to buy organic! Organic means it’s free of genetically modified ingredients and more nutrient dense because soils are richer and pesticide usage is less. Unfortunately, when eggs are concerned, just organic isn’t really enough. Eggs labeled organic simply means government agencies (USDA certified organic) have cleared that no unnatural pesticides or fertilizers have been used. Unlike plants and soil and water to feed them, in this case it’s the chickens that need feeding, and they can’t just live on water! So organic means they’re getting fed organic…soy, corn, grains. Not so great anymore, right?! What organic also does not ensure is their living quarters. Organic eggs can still be in just as poor conditions as the cartons without the organic label. Additionally, in some conditions, they are de-beacked which does not allow the chicken to do what it knows (as seen above on little critters and bugs in the dirt).
When buying eggs, the golden ones are labeled “pasture-raised” (they’re not really golden by the way). Pasture-raised chickens are the healthiest kinds, not to mention the most ethically raised. Pastured chickens roam free (around the pasture!), feeding on what they would naturally; bugs (I promise in this case, it’s healthier than the former!) and seeds. Plus, the bugs are totally organic. You will see the difference in the yolk; it’s almost an orange color rather than a pale orange-yellow. What that deep color tells you, just like vibrant fruits and veggies, is that their nutrients are in-tact.
Still interested in what those other labels mean? Here you go:
Cage Free: This one’s misleading because, well, it sounds nice. Hooray! They’re not trapped in a cage! It’s not as nice as we thought. Cage free isn’t lying, but it’s also not telling the whole story either. It does not guarantee the chickens will have access to sunlight, and can still be de-beaked. There’s no regulation on the use of antibiotics which means that’s what you could be ingesting too. It is said that the nutrient content of eggs from free-range hens is the same as those from hens housed in production facilities with cages. Next.
Free-Range: There are not a lot of standards involved here. Free-range can mean they’re uncaged, but typically inside barns with a limited amount of time in the actual outdoors. These barns are packed and not supervised as far as the conduct of the chickens (know what I mean?). There are also no restrictions on feed or beak cutting. This makes me sad.
Certified Humane: No guarantee of the outdoors but free to roam around the barn, but unlike free-range there are maximum capacity rules. Unfortunately, beak cutting is still allowed. The certified humane label does allow the birds to behave as they would naturally such as nesting. The Certified Humane program (part of Humane Farm Animal Care) enforces such rules.
Antibiotic Free: OK, so maybe they’re not cage free, but they’re antibiotic free. All good? No. It’s nice to know they’re not pumped with antibiotics, but the rest is a mystery. There aren’t any regulations on their treatment, conditions, or other feed.
Vegetarian Fed or Omega-3 Enriched: This has nothing to do with treatment or quality of the respective chickens and eggs. It’s most simply a marketing tool to make them seem better, but they’re not. Eat your veggies and take a high-quality fish oil. Done.
Brown vs. White Eggs: Just a different chicken! Nothing about either color is going to contain more nutrients or is more beneficial to you. Unlike a red vs. green apple, the eggs will taste the same.
Next time you’re at your local health grocer, pick up some pasture-raised eggs! Conventional grocery stores will likely not carry this kind. You can also order them online through companies such as Local Harvest. Eggcellent.