Making Sense of Grocery-store Eggs

Grocery stores have lots of different kinds of eggs. All
come from chickens, but some are labeled “all natural”, others
“organic”, and still others “free-range”. Some are even “organic
free range”. So what are the differences and which are best? All
Natural: This term is generally meaningless. This is what the
conventional egg industry calls its eggs in order to make them
sound healthy and wholesome when they really aren’t. It is almost
the same as having no designation at all on the label. “All
Natural” is code for “We have nothing good to say about our eggs
because they come from hens that spend their whole lives in the
dark in crowded cages eating nothing but chemical-laced grain.”
Unless you are suffering from actual starvation, these eggs are
best left alone.

Free-Range: Hmmm. What does this mean? Sounds like chickens living
wild, roaming out on the range, free. This is a joke. Nothing could
be less true. While “free range” eggs are certainly better than
”all natural” eggs, they are not what they sound like. “Free range”
usually means “Our chickens are not confined in cages, but they
spend their entire lives in a huge chicken house the size of a
football field crowded wall-to-wall with tens of thousands of their
feathery friends with little room to move.” There is nothing “free”
or “rangey” about the lives of these birds. Their situation is
better than that of chickens stuck in tiny cages, but their living
conditions are still unhealthy and unnatural. Cage Free: This term
means the same thing as “free range”.

Organic: This is
a good thing. In the conventional system, non-organic eggs almost
always come from chickens that are fed a meal of
genetically-modified corn or soybean that had been sprayed with
pesticides and herbicides and that is now laced with various
antibiotics and other harmful chemicals. “Organic” eggs, on the
other hand, come from chickens that are fed grain that is at least
not genetically modified, that lacks antibiotics, and that has not
been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. The eggs of such
chickens are healthier as a result because they lack residues of
such chemicals. In addition, organic eggs are required to come from
chickens that are cage-free and have “outdoor access.” In reality,
however, such access usually consists of only a teeny-tiny door on
the side of a monstrous chicken house, which the birds hardly know
exists, which they have little chance of reaching, and which leads
merely to a small cement porch with no grass. Vegetarian Diet: Many
eggs have labels that brag that the chickens were fed a “vegetarian
diet”. Whoopee!! Although it is good that their feed does not
contain animal bi-products, a vegetarian diet is not a healthy diet
for a chicken, which is a carnivore. In addition to grain and
forage, chickens naturally eat and derive protein from bugs, grubs,
larvae, worms, and even small rodents. Without access to such
foods, their eggs will be far less nutritious. Pastured: “Pastured
eggs” are the antithesis of eggs produced in the conventional
system–whether “all natural” or “free range”. It is what you want
if you are looking for maximum nutrition and sustainable
production. These eggs are rarely found in grocery stores, and you
usually have to go directly to a farm to buy them. Unlike “all
natural” and “free range” eggs, pastured eggs are exactly as they
sound–they are from chickens raised on pasture. Because they are
raised on pasture, they have access to grass, and lots of it. They
also have access to bugs, grubs, larvae, and worms, delicious bits
that chickens always relish. Because these chickens have ample
access to foods found in their natural diet and they are able to
exhibit their natural behavior, their eggs are A LOT more
nutritious than conventionally produced eggs–organic or not–as
exhibited by their darker-colored yolks. Pastured eggs can be
”organic”, but often they are not. One reason is that the
organically raised animals require a controlled environment in
order to guarantee that the animals receive nothing but organic
feed. Pasture is outside, therefore, it is often not a controlled
environment. Unless the entire farm is certified organic, it is
difficult to claim that the chickens eat only organic food. A
second reason is that farmers who raise animals on pasture often
want to avoid the substantial costs of getting an organic
certification, and they and their customers already know that their
pastured eggs are just as good without it. Eggs from pasture raised
chickens are always the best by far, especially when they are from
a farmer that you know and trust. Nothing can substitute for a
personal relationship between consumer and farmer. With that, I
would rank eggs as follows, with the 1 being the best:

  1. Pastured
  2. Organic
  3. Free-range or cage-free
  4. All

Now, I think it’s time to make an
omelet. Photo source:

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About Patrick Crawford

Patrick Crawford was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He attended college and law school at the University of Notre Dame, spending one year during law school studying at Notre Dame’s campus in London, England. He is now living and practicing family law in Annapolis, Maryland. When he is not practicing law, he follows the strong interest that he has acquired in the interaction between big business, government, the media, and the lives of individuals affected by these influences. He is particularly interested in the severely negative effects these forces have on nutrition, food production processes, local agriculture, and therefore, on health. He hopes that, through his articles, he will be able to educate others on the importance of traditional and sustainable foodways and agricultural practices, for the sake of both individual health and the security of local food systems. He runs his own website, called: National Fork.
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