When you go to the grocery store, you are there to purchase food, not to do puzzles. Personally, I’ve wasted plenty of time looking at egg cartons, deciphering the catchy terms on the carton. Big Food has done a great job at creating these catchy terms to facilitate my purchase. What you think might be healthy is, in fact, nothing but marketing tactics by Big Food to get you to buy their products.
Out of frustration, I’ve broken down the meanings of each term that you’ll see on the egg carton labels, accompanied by an impressive infographic created by Takepart.
There’s more that meets the eye when you really dissect a carton of eggs. When you’re done with this article, you’ll have the knowledge to outsmart Big Food, and know which types of eggs are in fact healthy for you.
Winner winner chicken dinner. Although pasture-raised eggs don’t undergo heavy regulation, they are the best types of eggs to get. Pasture-raised eggs are from hens that live in an environment as close to its natural habitat as possible (as much as you can be for a farmed animal). Their environment is stress-free for they spend their days roaming pastures, eating worms, insects, grubs, greens, and grain (when necessary, typically during winter months). Not a bad life for a chicken.
In lieu of the lack of regulation, pasture-raised eggs are typically raised by local, sustainable farmers who take pride in providing high integrity products. The use of antibiotics is typically not required because the chickens are not confined in masses amongst each other in shitty living conditions. All in all, pasture-raised eggs look the best and taste the best. You’ll notice these yolks have an orange color compared to its counterparts.
Chickens are free to roam inside barns, but may not have access to the outdoors. The hens end up roaming around inside of barns in their own filth. This term tells you nothing about the chicken’s diet. Beak cutting is permitted.
News flash: chickens are omnivores. In addition to grass, their full diet should contain insects and grubs. All this means is their feed does not contain animal byproducts.
This term is ridiculous. All eggs are “natural.” All this means is that nothing is added to the egg.
Another ridiculous term. Egg-laying hens are not given hormones.
The birds must be allowed access to the outdoors—but could simply mean a small door to a concrete slab from a barn that houses thousands of birds. The term does not signify what the birds are fed.
These eggs come from cage-free hens with outdoor access, and the hens are fed certified-organic feed. Forced molting and debeaking are permitted. Antibiotics are prohibited, although there is a loophole in which the standard kicks in on “the second day of life” for chicks, including those on organic farms. This isn’t perfect, but there’s assurance that their feed has no GMOs.
American Humane Certified
It guarantees that animals have access to adequate food and water, are able to perform their natural behaviors (nesting, perching, and dust bathing), and living conditions are not overcrowded. It is the only welfare program to permit the use of cages for housing egg-laying hens. Forced molting is prohibited. Beak cutting is allowed.
Food Alliance Certified
Cages are prohibited and the hens have access to outdoors. No animal byproducts are fed but no regulations on GMOs. The birds are allowed to engage in natural behavior and there are specific requirements as to stocking density and space. Beak cutting is allowed. Forced molting is prohibited.
Cages are prohibited and even though there’s no requirement that animals have access to the outdoors, producers must allow the birds space to perform natural behaviors. The birds are fed a diet free of animal byproducts and growth enhancers. Antibiotics may be administered only to treat diseases. Forced molting is not allowed. Beak cutting is allowed.
Animal Welfare Approved
Program participants are limited to independent small-scale farmers, who are subject to annual audit. It is required that these chickens are cage-free and are allowed constant outdoor access to forage and perform natural behaviors. Flock size may not be more than 500 birds. Antibiotic use is for treating diseases only, but hens that receive antibiotics can’t be used to produce eggs for at least twice the licensed withdrawal period of the medicines used. No animal byproducts allowed in the feed. Beak cutting is prohibited. Forced molting is also prohibited.
We are very disconnected from our food source and quite frankly, we take food for granted. If we want strawberries in the middle of winter, we’ll find them—even though they’re not in season. Taking control of your health involves being informed about your food and its origin. The common misconception about eggs are if they’re natural, vegetarian-fed, organic, etc. then it’s good for you.
It’s equally as important, if not more important to know what the chickens were eating, and how they were raised. An omnivorous diet and low-stress living conditions will allow the chickens to have full vitality. Just like humans, a low-stress lifestyle and omnivorous diet will give us the full breadth of vitamins and nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Aim for organic, pasture-raised eggs. Typically, pasture-raised eggs are organic. This should be your top choice. Extra bonus if they are Animal Welfare Approved.
Be smart about your food. Befriend your local farmer. I’m not sure where I heard this but “You are what your food eats.”