Originally posted July 29, 2015.
The pecking order of eggs: All-Natural, Cage-Free, Free-Range, Farm Fresh, Organic, No Hormones, Omega-3? Confusing, isn’t it? The truth is about 95% of eggs in the U.S. come from chickens raised in cages allowing about 67 square inches floor space per bird (about the size of an iPad). From NPR, here’s a guide to what you are buying.
Cage-Free: No, the chickens are not in a bucolic red barn. They usually live in aviaries: massive industrial barns that house thousands of birds. Each bird has, on average, 1 square foot of space. A common cause of death? Being pecked by other chickens.
No Hormones: It’s like saying “no toxic waste” in a box of cereal. It’s illegal to give hormones to poultry.
No Antibiotics: Again, misleading. Antibiotics are usually not used in the egg industry. Chickens raised for their meat, however, are often given antibiotics.
Free-Range: Yes, chickens do have access to the outdoors, but giant industrial fans that suck ammonia out of the commercial egg facilities create “hurricane winds,” which make the birds unwilling to walk through the small doorways. Free-range means pretty much the same as cage-free.
Vegetarian Diet: Let’s see… in the wild, chickens are omnivores, getting their protein from worms and insects. Vegetarian diet most likely means they are being feed corn that is fortified with amino acids.
Omega-3: Some flaxseed is mixed in with the corn feed, possibly leading to higher levels of omega-3s in the chickens’ eggs.
Organic: These eggs are much like “free-range” eggs, coming from birds that live in crowded, industrial aviaries.
Pasture Raised: These birds spend most of their life outdoors, in a fair amount of space with access to a barn. Most likely these chickens are able to eat a diet of worms, insects and grass, along with corn feed, which may or may not be organic.
Certified Humane: What may be “humane” treatment in one farm may not be the same in another farm. “But the third-party auditing organizations Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and American Humane Certified assess egg farms according to a robust set of animal welfare guidelines.”
The bottom line? Buy pastured-raised eggs from your local farmers market.