When you pick up a carton of “cage free” eggs, you’re probably not picturing a warehouse packed with hens who have no access to natural light or fresh air and who have never been able to engage in natural hen behaviors. I doubt you assume that the hens laying your eggs ate food laced with GMOs, pesticides, feather-meal and other types of waste. But sadly, this is all likely the case, because the term “cage-free” doesn’t mean much.
To make sure your eggs come from humanely-raised hens, look for the words “organic” – or even better: “pasture raised” on the carton label.
Not only do these eggs support sustainable farming, but they are also more nutritious and taste much better. Vital Farms is one of my favorite brands because I can always find them at my local Whole Foods, and I like that they show me a picture of the hens who laid my eggs!
There are lots of other great ethically produced eggs, and many of them are only sold locally — so check out your local grocery store to see what’s offered in your area. Here’s some more information about egg labels to help guide your purchasing. These are listed from best to worst.
1. Pasture-raised Organic. The ultimate in quality, taste and animal welfare. These hens are raised outdoors with plenty of room to perch, forage and act like birds. They are frequently moved on to fresh grass and their feed is USDA Certified Organic. The birds’ lifestyle and varied diet make these eggs superior in flavor, texture and nutritional content. Wholesale cost is about $4.50-5.50/ dozen.
2. Pasture-raised, non-organic. These hens are raised outdoors with plenty of room to perch, forage and act like birds. They are frequently moved on to fresh grass and their feed is high-quality, vegetarian and non- organic. The bird’s lifestyle makes these eggs superior in flavor. Wholesale cost is about $3.50-4.50/dozen.
3. Organic. These hens are for the most part, raised indoors and should be given access to the outdoors (this does not always happen). They eat only USDA Certified Organic feed. While they have limited space, they are not caged and do eat a quality feed ration free from pesticides, herbicides and GMO-ingredients. Wholesale cost is about $3.50-4.50/ dozen.
4. Cage Free / “free-range.” These birds are raised in a warehouse of up to 100,000 hens per house. They never see natural light, breathe fresh air or see a blade of grass. Their feed is non-organic and laced with GMOs, pesticides and sometimes even blood-meal, feather-meal and other types of waste. Their lives are spent breathing fecal dust, standing in their own excrement. Wholesale cost is about $2.50/ dozen.
5. Caged. Same as #4, but these birds are jammed into a cage with up to eight other birds, unable to stand up or turn around their entire life. They eat low-quality feed from a conveyor, lay eggs onto a conveyor and even poop onto a conveyor. Same issues of feed and fecal dust as #4. Caged eggs are now illegal in the EU and California. Wholesale cost is about $1.50/ dozen.
More information about what to look for when buying eggs.
Egg information provided above is courtesy of Vital Farms, but this is not a sponsored post and I received no compensation to mention any particular brand.