Recently, terms such as cage-free, organic, free-range, vegetarian raised and pasture raised have flooded the cartons of eggs you choose from at the grocery store. You may find the wall of eggs at the grocery store intimidating as you try to decipher the new terms while keeping cost in mind. According to the American Egg Board, US egg production totaled 7.55 billion as of April 2017. While the production of eggs has increased, the conditions for hens have different standards across the country. Varying conditions may make learning about your quality of eggs and the treatment of hens confusing to understand. We often hear questions such as:
- What are cage free eggs?
- What does free range mean?
- What are the safest eggs for me to buy?
We’ve summarized some common egg terms below to make your buying process easier and more informed.
Cage-free hens are not confined to cages but do not have access to the outdoors. Large industrial warehouses are set up like aviaries where the birds can move around freely. Many of these systems include perches, scratch pads, and nest boxes, allowing the hens to behave as any wild fowl would. Some studies have shown that mortality rates in cage free systems are higher due to pecking injuries.
Free-range systems are cage-free but give hens access to the outdoors. This often means giving the hens a few windows. Usually, not all the birds are able to access the windows due to the volume of hens housed in free-range facilities.
To qualify as organic, eggs must come from chickens that are only given antibiotics in the case of infection and that are only given organic feed. This means that the feed must be free of any pesticides or fertilizers. Organic eggs are required to be free-range.
Vegetarian-fed hens are often given a diet of corn fortified with amino acids. This system comes under heavy criticism as chickens are not naturally vegetarians and their diets often include worms, insects, and small animals.
These traditional systems, known as enriched or colony cages, are enclosed cages that provide perches, scratch pads, and nest boxes that allowing the birds to exhibit behaviors they would in the wild. Many farmers would argue that these systems provide the best happy-medium between production costs and living conditions for hens.
Considered the highest quality by many animal-welfare experts, pasture-raised hens spend most of their time outside and eat a natural diet; they are able to live in ways consistent with their natural behaviors. The FDA does not currently regulate these farms’ standards, but to help consumers, various independent studies have been conducted to baseline the quality of the eggs.
This infographic from The Penny Hoarder provides an egg-cellent (sorry we couldn’t resist!) high-level summary of the eggs available to consumers.
Now that you are armed with more information, you can make the right egg-buying choices for you and your family. Check out this delicious and healthy cauliflower fried rice recipe from Cody coach Carling Harps. It’s easy to make and packed with nutrition. Bon Appétit!