Making Sense of Egg Labels


Eggs from our girls!

I have been getting a really nice response from my recent articles about the beef industry and how to read (and understand) meat labels.  Several people have asked if I could talk about Eggs next.  So, here we are…

Let’s get some vocabulary out of the way first.  As usual, many of the labeling terms don’t mean what you think they mean.

Free Range” chickens have access to a door leading outside.  But that doesn’t mean that they can reach it or that they are brave enough to go outside.  If you are a country girl and have a chance to take a trip across the world to a big city, you just might not be interested. Chickens are the same way. Creatures often stick to what they know.

Cage Free” chickens aren’t in cages, which might imply that they have ample leg room.  Sadly, this usually just means that they are crammed into a hen house without dividers.

cage free factory chickens

Cage free chickens aren't "free." (Photo from my friend S.O.)

Pastured” poultry live outside, digging, rolling in the dirt, looking for insects, and eating grasses and other plants in their environment.  Because of predators, they are often kept underneath a bottomless structure or are put inside a coop at night.  They have no need for medications or hormones, since they are not overcrowded and eat a balanced diet that allows them to grow normally.  Their eggs are often brighter in color and much more flavorful than their industrialized cousins.   If your grocery store doesn’t carry pastured chicken eggs, see if they will order some.  If not, try your farmer’s market, community garden… or maybe even your neighbor.

High in Omega-3’s” means that the chickens were fed a diet that contains Omega-3 fatty acids.  It’s the same variety of polyunsaturated fat that can be found in walnuts. The bulk of this is found in the yolk of the egg (so my mom, who only eats egg whites, shouldn’t bother!)

If you are aiming for additive and hormone free eggs, buy the ones that are labeled “Organic.”  Not only is their feed better quality, but the chickens themselves are not given any medications or hormones.  However, Organic does not necessarily mean that they aren’t institutionalized or that they live a cruelty-free life.

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2 Responses to Making Sense of Egg Labels

  1. Keith says:

    The only clarification I would make is that NO chickens are given hormones. Most industrial chickens are given low-dosage anti-biotics in their feed. This is to keep them from getting diseases and dying due to their very unsanitary, concentrated conditions. Out chickens are “pasture-raised” or “pastured” and are never given anti-biotics. I would encourage everyone to inspect the farm you buy your food from to ensure what they say matches what you think.

  2. Noel Chapman says:

    Great post Michelle! We started raising chickens and stopped buying eggs from the grocery store almost 6 years ago and really are enjoying the farming life.

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