Most of us have heard the terms “Free Range, Pasturized, Cage Free, Organic, and Natural”.
We, as consumers must be careful when using these terms for evaluation. Although buying USDA organic gives assurance that the chickens are not being fed GMOs, a lot of the time, the terms above can be somewhat misleading and confusing.
As you can see in the above photo, the organic egg in the middle looks just as pale as the conventional egg. This is definitely a major difference in quality!
So, if the labels on the carton are not sufficient for us to make a well informed choice, how do we know which eggs to buy?
1) Visit the farm personally and get to know your farmer
2) Go to the Cornucopia Institute’s website and look at their egg score card: http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/
3) Raise your own chickens or ducks
Here is a small snip of what the score card looks like
Now, I personally prefer duck eggs which I buy from a local small family farm,
but my husband used to buy eggs from Glaum Egg Ranch.
However, when I looked up the company on the score card, I was surprised to find that they did not score well at all. Even though they are certified USDA organic, cage free and certified humane, they received one of the worst ratings!
So, I called and emailed Glaum Egg Ranch, and asked them if I could tour their facilities. I did not receive any response to my emails or phone calls. Trying to find information, I went on yelp and found out that there were other people trying to get a chance to visit their facilities but none of them were able to. The owner responded to comments stating that since his company participates in third party certification with regular inspections, he doesn’t need to make his facilities accessible to the public. Really? Well, I don’t want to purchase from a company that I am not allowed to visit.
So, we stopped buying Glaum Ranch Eggs.
I went to our local natural food store the next day and brought my Cornucopia Egg Score Card. Most of the brands at our store did not score well, but then I found Organic Pastures which had one of the best scores. So, I purchased it. I was so glad I did because the difference in egg quality was absolutely profound. The Glaum Eggs were pale, tasteless, and broke so easily, while the Organic Pasture eggs were dark, rich yellow, flavorful and almost impossible to break.
This experience was a real eye opener for me.
Here is an informative article from the Humane Society:
Egg Carton Labels Terms
The vast number of consumer labels affixed to egg cartons can leave a shopper feeling dazed and confused. One carton may label its eggs “Natural.” Another carton may call them “Free Range,” while yet another may claim its eggs are “Certified Organic.” How are thoughtful consumers supposed to know what these labels and claims really mean?
The truth is that the majority of egg labels have little relevance to animal welfare or, if they do, they have no official standards or any mechanism to enforce them.
Certified Organic: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.
Free-Range: While the USDA has defined the meaning of “free-range” for some poultry products, there are no standards in “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. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
Certified Humane: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses but may be kept indoors at all times. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care.
Animal Welfare Approved: The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is prohibited. Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the Animal Welfare Institute.
American Humane Certified: This label allows both cage confinement and cage-free systems. Each animal who is confined in these so-called “furnished cages” has about the space of a legal-sized sheet of paper. An abundance of scientific evidence demonstrates that these cages are detrimental to animal welfare, and they are opposed by nearly every major US and EU animal welfare group. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. American Humane Certified is a program of American Humane Association.
Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
Free-Roaming: Also known as “free-range,” the USDA has defined this claim for some poultry products, but there are no standards in “free-roaming” egg production. This essentially means the hens are cage-free. There is no third-party auditing.
Food Alliance Certified: The birds are cage-free and access to outdoors or natural daylight is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are specific requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Starvation-based molting is prohibited. Beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Food Alliance Certified is a program of the Food Alliance.
United Egg Producers Certified: The overwhelming majority of the U.S. egg industry complies with this voluntary program, which permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices. Hens laying these eggs have 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive, barren battery cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. This is a program of the United Egg Producers.
Vegetarian-Fed: These birds’ feed does not contain animal byproducts, but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions.
Natural: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.
Fertile: These eggs were laid by hens who lived with roosters, meaning they most likely were not caged.
Omega-3 Enriched: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.