The Contradictions of Organic Eggs

When you see the “organic” label on a carton of eggs, what do you visualize? If you’re like many consumers, you probably think of a flock of healthy, friendly chickens feeding on an open pasture, with their diets perhaps supplemented by some locally sourced food in poor weather or conditions when the pasture is low. You might be under the impression that those eggs are higher in nutrients as a result of the healthier and more diverse diet the hens eat, and you might feel good about pulling that carton off the shelf, even if you do wince at the price. Even though they’re more expensive than conventional eggs, you might tell yourself, they’re worth it.

However, the reality of the organic certification is not so rosy. When farmers began pushing for the certification in the 1970s, the USDA responded, albeit slowly, working on a set of guidelines that culminated in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. (For reference, organic certifier Oregon Tilth dates to 1982.) The intention of these certifications was to ensure that consumers knew what they were buying, and had a clear choice between agricultural production methods. To obtain certification, farmers have to endure three to five hour inspections every year that minutely evaluate every aspect of their facilities and procedures.

Yet, some aspects of the certification process allow for loopholes, and some of those loopholes are astonishingly idiosyncratic, a reflection of how difficult it can be to create a coherent regulation process for something so complicated. For example, consumers who think they’re getting locally sourced produce and animal products should think again: nothing in the standards requires farmers to use local organic fodder for their animals, which explains the shocking price of some organic eggs, milk, and meats. Why so spendy?

That diverse, healthy diet organic hens eat? It’s largely corn and soybeans, and though the United States is a huge producer of these crops, it doesn’t produce enough organic corn and soybeans to satisfy the growing organic farming industry, so farmers are forced to import from overseas, which drives up the cost of their products. If this sounds like a bizarre contradiction to you, you’re not alone: some farmers are choosing to produce “beyond organic” products which focus not just on the spirit of organic certification, but also considerations like ethical and local sourcing for their feed and other supplies, as well as labor.

A similar conflict can be seen with claims of “free range” and “cage free” eggs, which are not subjected to regulation. This allows farmers to slap any label they please on their egg cartons and treat their hens however they want, because they’re not actually subject to inspection or any government standards. This is grim news for the chickens in their care, who can endure the same cramped, crowded, miserable conditions as those in cartons not labeled “free range.” Organic chickens are theoretically supposed to be allowed access to pasture, which is actually a step up from “free range” labels, but the problem is that they’re often provided with a single open door in the henhouse, and fear keeps them from venturing outside. So much for pasture-raised hens.

What you’re really getting with a food label is sometimes hard to ascertain, and the industry works to keep it that way, which makes it even more challenging to do the right thing with your wallet and your fridge. How can you know where your food is coming from? Consider buying directly from local farmers — and if you buy at farmers’ markets, ask for farm tours and other proofs of local operations, as fake farmers’ markets have become a growing problem in the United States.

Photo credit: Bretta Gottsabend.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Shan D.
Shan D.2 years ago

"Shan D, rofl! Egg-xactly! I hope that it was a wonderful meeting resulting in a flavourful ending." (Dale O.)

:-D It was indeed!

I envy you, having easy access to real maple syrup. It's not easy to find here, and when I do, it's godawful expensive. It's a once-in-several-years' treat.

Dale O.

Shan D, rofl! Egg-xactly! I hope that it was a wonderful meeting resulting in a flavourful ending.

Diane L, stated: "Scrolling back, somebody commented that eating one egg is equivalent to smoking 25,000 cigarettes?"

I have not been to this thread for a while, but let me guess, was it JC C or one of his numerous other profiles that said that?
I checked, yes. Only he and his multiple accounts say that one, aside from Dr. vegan Greger. Lol, anyone believing that one will be buying mossy old rickety bridges.

I often use real maple syrup, since it is available in large quantities in this region.

Kyle N, I agree with Diane L when it comes to taste, there is a vast difference between the taste of eggs where the hens are free to run and roam and the taste of factory farmed hens. The colour of the yolk is also much more vibrant as well, factory farm yolks pale in comparison. One often gets double yolks with free range hens.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Kyle, we're really digressing from the topic here, and we are probably both on the same page except for our opinions on which egg is from a naturally fed, free ranged hen or one from a hen kept in a battery cage and fed "whatever".

I took chemistry and understand the principles, and I am sure you do as well, so you surely would agree that many compounds are vastly different as far as what they will do in one form vs. another and simply one molecule different in structure. One can be edible while the other may blow up a building. I know what the chemical compound of water is, for example, yet one part of that can create a nuclear explosion.

Kyle N.
Kyle N.2 years ago

Saccharin which has been known to cause cancer in lab mice. Aspertame was originally designed as a neurotoxin during the korean war, so research does put alot of mental disability blame on that ingredient. Splenda which contains sugar atom, but is mixed with acetone and then bound with another poisonous chemical version of chlorine.
I can't handle any amount of Splenda, it gives me severe side effect reactions. Aspertame gives me Migranes and wont take any chances with saccharin. So it is only the real sugar for me. Some ingredients in splenda are used in nuclear plant cleanup, some heavy duty cleaners known to cause skin burns.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Kyle, if you are not diabetic, probably a good choice. We all get enough "sugar" naturally, most of the time, anyway. The point is that those who need to sweeten something that isn't sweet may need to choose a synthetic or choice other than refined sugar which has a negative effect with the pancreas. I have a close friend who is TYPE I and is insulin-dependent. He uses Splenda, and recommended it to me, and I've chosen it as my "sweetener of choice" for such things as cereal (If or when I do eat cereal), but never use it in cooking. It actually is made FROM real sugar, but has been modified. People think that HFCS is "natural", and that just a packet of the pink stuff is fine, but even though studies have shown that it takes a lot of the pink stuff to produce carcinogenic tumors in lab rats, I think that is proof ENOUGH for me. Aspertame is another that is questionable.

Kyle N.
Kyle N.2 years ago

I dont ever buy the ground beef that's in that tube. Fresh ground only. True about the bison, I get it when I can, I have my source. I can't use any trace of splenda due to the health issues it causes. When I use sweetener I use Sugar, in certain cases honey or maple syrup.

Stanley R.
Stanley R.2 years ago


Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

(whoops, cut off)..........He also sells bison (better than beef!), elk, venison, moose, and often kangaroo, rattlesnake and alligator.

As for artificial sweeteners, that's good to hear, as most of them are suspicious as to what harmful effects could be linked. The crap in the pink packets is the worst. I sometimes use "Splenda" if I feel the need to add a sweetener, though. There's one made from monk fruit that is 5/X sweeter and a little goes a long way, but it's a bit pricey.