Every time I visit the organic dairy case, I get more and more overwhelmed by the classifications and categorizations of eggs. Too many terms… too many confusing terms!
They can also be misleading and aren’t always as “dreamy” as they might seem, so take a look at the real deal on these most common terms in the “egg world”:
- Organic – these eggs come from hens that are free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. They are fed an organic, vegetarian, pesticide-free diet. Organic eggs are said to include three times more omega-3 fatty acids, twice as much vitamin E and 40% more vitamin A than non-organic eggs. This label is regulated by the USDA.
- Cage-free – while cage-free sounds more humane, the reality isn’t always as great as it sounds. While the hens aren’t confined to tiny individual cages, they are often placed in much larger common areas with other hens, but have no more individual space than a single cage… so no, cage-free does not mean they have ample space to spread their wings either. Also keep in mind that this “label” is not regulated and cage-free does not mean organic unless it says so.
- Free-range – these hens are raised with “access” to the outdoors, but sadly it doesn’t mean they spend their life prancing around the grassy hillside. The reality is that they still spend much of their life in a cage-free environment, but are supposed get some time outdoors. Since this term isn’t regulated either, some reports say that free-range hens may actually spend little to NO time outdoors despite the claim. Again, free-range does not mean organic unless it says so.
There are plenty of other terms –- “natural” which essentially means nothing (all eggs are natural!), “pasture-raised” which means they do peck around outdoors or “grass-fed” meaning they do get outdoors and eat grass, insects and all that nature intended (so these eggs contain the most nutrients, but you will pay for them… dearly!), “certified humane” meaning they live indoors, but are confined much less densely –- so all you can do is know what the terms mean and choose what matters to you.
I haven’t even touched on conventionally-raised hens but believe me, they are often fed cheap, disgusting grains and foods (including the by-products of other animals), kept in the smallest of cages with deplorable conditions, and have the tips of their beaks burned off so they don’t peck one another… sure, the dozen eggs you purchase may be 99 cents, but I cannot condone or support those practices.
We’re an “organic, free-range” family because, aside from raising my own chickens (no, not likely!) or knowing someone who does (unfortunately, I don’t!), I’m hoping that the eggs come from somewhat happy chickens that maintained a healthy diet and drug-free life!
(There you have it… and I didn’t say “egg-cellent”, even once!…)