Should You Buy Free-Range, Organic or Humane Eggs?

What eggs are the best when it comes to how the chickens they come from are raised and the kind of impact those chickens have on the planet?

Many eggs come from chickens raised in industrial cages that leave no room for the animals to move around in, let alone walk or peck at the ground. They’re basically kept in a state of non-stop egg laying until they can’t lay any more. It’s a cruel and inhumane way to treat any animals, so labels that verify that the chickens are treated humanely are particularly important. This Care2 post on ethical egg production explains the issue in more detail.

Here are the labels to look for when you go shopping.

Skip These Cartons

The following words and phrases are essentially meaningless when it comes to indicating how chickens were raised on the land, what they were fed and how the eggs themselves were produced.

Natural or FarmFresh – There are no federal definitions or industry standard for these terms. If an egg’s only claim to fame is that it’s natural or farm fresh, leave it on the shelf.

Vegetarian Fed – Again, this designation doesn’t indicate how a chicken was treated or what the nature of the feed was. Chickens are actually meat eaters (they like worms and grubs), so it’s not necessarily a benefit that they’re fed vegetarian food, even if it’s organic.

Omega-3 Enriched – This designation has nothing to do with how the animals were raised or what they ate.

Cage-Free, Free-Range, Pasture-Raised, Natural, Humanely-Raised – Unfortunately, none of these words actually mean much unless they’re accompanied by a third-party certification that verifies them. This verifies not just that the animals weren’t in cages, but that they were allowed room to roam and forage. “Cage-free” or “free-range” can still describe crowded, filthy living conditions for chickens, potentially in barns with tens of thousands of other birds. If you’re buying eggs at a farmer’s market, the farmer may have photographs of what his chicken operation looks like. In the grocery store, you’re at the mercy of a meaningless label.

No Added Hormones – Federal regulations have never allowed the use of hormones or steroids in poultry, so this is a meaningless claim.

Consider These Cartons

The following words and phrases are better indicators of how eggs were produced.

Organic – As defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, organic means that hens’ feed is organic, not tainted with GMOs and free of additives and animal byproducts. Hens are also to nest in boxes rather than cages and given access to the outdoors, weather-permitting. Farmers cannot administer antibiotics except during an infectious outbreak.

No Antibiotics – This is good information to have, given how over-treated conventional meat and poultry production can be.

Certified Humane – While “humane” itself is not defined by the USDA, the “certified humane” label indicates farmers who have met the standards set by the non-profit group Humane Farm Animal Care. The are also Animal Welfare approved.

If this is all a bit confusing, refer to this very handy chart created by The Cornucopia Institute. The non-profit research groups rates companies that produce eggs according to how well they meet the organic standards as well as how the animals are treated.

Ratings range from “5 eggs,” which signifies the best sources, to “1 egg,” which is the worst. FYI, Safeway’s O Organic brand, Wegman’s, Kroger’s Simple Truth, Giant’s Nature’s Promise, Meijer’s Organics, Whole Foods’ 350 Organic brand and Trader Joe’s all only rate 1 egg. If you can buy eggs from smaller egg operations and farmers at local markets, chances are you’ll be supporting more humane chicken operations.

Related:
Which are Healthier? Egg whites or whole eggs?
Who Says Eggs Aren’t Healthy or Safe?

110 comments

doug krause
doug krause1 years ago

or maybe skip eggs altogether.. there are so many great alternatives.

http://www.care2.com/causes/investigation-exposes-cruelty-and-suffering-at-free-range-chicken-farm.html

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Elaine W.
Past Member 2 years ago

Noted.

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Jeffrey Stanley
Jeff S2 years ago

TYFS

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Maria M.
Maria M2 years ago

Thank you!

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Jax L.

Thank you!

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Jax L.

Great Article!

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Trish K.
Trish K2 years ago

Our local organic farmer is well known and every thing he grows is superb. I take an empty carton as well, to pick up a goose egg or two and got to have those duck eggs. The farmers wife makes the best soups too. Curried cauliflower, split pea, spiced butternut squash and on and on. Whole grains from local farmer and Apples just up the hill. So luck to live in an area with so many old hippies and young ones too. Know Your Source

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