My family consumes a lot of eggs, about 3 dozen a week between the 4 of us. Clean eating is really important to us, so I care a lot about the quality of eggs we're getting. I'm planning to get a small backyard children coop built this spring so we can raise a few hens ourselves, but until then, we're stuck getting most of our eggs from the supermarket (I do buy eggs from our neighbor when he has extra). There are so many different terms on egg cartons though, it can be a bit tricky to figure out which eggs are best. I've spent some time researching and here's what I found out:
Caged hens(which produce pretty much any eggs that don't state they're free range, pasture raised, cage free, certified humane, or organic) are kept in tiny cages, some as small as 67 square inches! Most never see the light of day. Most are fed a soy or corn (probably GMO) diet.
Cage-Free hensare given slightly more space since they are not confined to cages but most still never see the light of day. They spend they're entire egg laying lives confined to a crowded barn being fed corn or soy.
Free-Rangeis an especially misleading term when it comes to hens. Free Range hens are not required to have more than 2 square foot a piece and while they must have access to the outdoors, many never actually see it. Many are kept in crowded barns with only a single access point or two to a small caged in outdoor space. They are typically fed a corn or soy based diet. Free-range unfortunately does not mean hens who are free to roam and forage outdoors like one might think.
Pasture-Raisedare the eggs you want to look for. While, as far as I can find, there are no current regulations, this is the term being used by sustainable farmers to refer to hens that are given ample time and space (at least 108 square foot per bird) outside to forge for bugs like chickens are supposed to (they are fed some feed too). If you really want to be sure your getting quality eggs from healthy humanely raised hens, look for pasture-raised eggs with the "Certified Humane" seal. The seal means the eggs come from farms that have been inspected to meet very specific standards including the freedom to roam freely during the daytime.
According to a study out of Pennsylvania State University, pasture-raised hens produce eggs that contain several times the amount of both vitamin D and E than conventionally farmed eggs. And twice the amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Healthy chickens produce healthy eggs.
Another term I've seen on egg cartons lately that drives me crazy is "Vegetarian Fed". Guys, this isn't a good thing. Chickens are omnivores, they're supposed to eat insects, worms, and grass. So please don't be fooled by this sales ploy.
All in all, healthier happier chickens who are free to roam and forage for insects and worms produce healthier eggs. Look for the term "Pasture-Raised" and the "Certified Humane" seal when shopping for eggs.
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