Free Range, Organic, Omega-3 – Oh My!

In Publix today, I went to pick up a dozen eggs. As I reached for my usual Eggland’s Best, I noticed that the egg selection had expanded exponentially.  As I glanced at the labels, I became quite confused. I ended up purchasing a dozen that were in a paper carton (recycled paper) and were antibiotic free, but decided I would research the labels before my next purchase.

Here’s a great primer of egg labels from Fooducate blog. (They have a neat iPhone app, too.) From what i read, it looks like “certified organic” is the best option…

We’re big on eggs here at Fooducate. They are a cheap and reliable source of protein, especially for meat avoiders. They are one of few foods naturally containing vitamin D and they are also a good source of vitamin A, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.

Due to their high cholesterol count (over 65% of the recommended daily intake) Eggs lost favor with consumers in the past decades. But current studies are pointing favorably to the egg, stating that most of the cholesterol formed in the human body results from saturated and trans-fats, and not the cholesterol in the egg.

Eggs have no trans-fat and only 8% of the daily value for saturated fat.

So you’ve decided to purchase some eggs. But there are so many options and labels. How do you know what to choose?

As in many products, the label includes many marketing messages, but not all of them have actual standing in facts. Here are some pointers.

What you need to know:
Omega-3 Enriched / Enhanced – the hens were fed either fish oil or flaxseed and passed the omega 3 second hand to you. Keep in mind that Omega-3 eggs are unregulated, so you don’t know how much omega-3 you’re actually getting.

Natural, Naturally Raised – unregulated, means nothing.

No Hormones, No Antibiotics – unregulated, means nothing.

Certified Organic –  the hens are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. They are uncaged, “residing” inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They may also be starved and de-beaked.

Free range – There is no USDA standard for “free-range” egg production. Typically,free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access.

Cage free / Free run – even less promising than free range because no degree of outdoor access is implied.

Certified Humane –  Chickens not in cages but inside barns or warehouses. Access to the outdoors not a must.  Certain requirements must be met, for example, the chickens are able to perform natural behaviors.

Animal Welfare Approved – The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. Cage-free environments with access to outdoor pasture. They are able to move freely, socialize, and engage in natural, health-promoting behaviors. Beak trimming and forced molting are prohibited. Unfortunately, there are no participating producers that sell to supermarkets.
United Egg Producers – no special meaning, aside the fact that the hens are fed and given water. The majority of factory farms with tens of thousands of hens comply with this program.
One last note – there is no difference nutritionally or otherwise between brown eggs and white eggs. The eggshell color is determined by the chicken type.

What to do at the supermarket:
The ethics and morality of what animal derived food to eat is a very touchy subject matter, and beyond the scope of this blog. We wanted to present the information we collected and let each family make its decision based on taste, nutrition, price, and environmental/ethical considerations.

One last thing – if you’ve never tasted eggs from a local family farm where the hens truly are free in the range, you don’t know what you’re missing. Out of this world. Treat yourself to a dozen and taste for yourself.

One Comment
  1. I just finished "Eating Animals" which is a really interesting book if you`re interested in American factory farms, but it can be a little hard to read sometimes. In it, the author discusses how 99% of all animals and animal products we eat come from basically the same poor living conditions. It is really disheartening to think that the $4 eggs and the 99 cent eggs came from equally mistreated chickens.

    All that is to say, I would like to find a place to buy farm eggs consistently in Columbia. My roommate's coworker sells eggs from her chickens, but I'd like to find a more direct route to local, farm eggs since that is pretty much the only way to ensure your eggs came from happy chickens who were probably eating grass, bugs, and all that other stuff chickens like to eat.

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