Have you ever wondered what all of the egg terminology meant and why prices range from as low a $0.99 a dozen to $6.00 a dozen or more at your local grocers?
With this post we hope to explain in detail what some of the common terms are for eggs, along with some background information on egg health that we have picked up over the years.
First, numerous terms are legally limited in their use. The agency who regulates the use of the terms is the USDA. The USDA term definitions can be found here:
So, I basically get the cold shoulder or the look of doom after I tell people or show people the price of my eggs because they are so used to the eggs from the store ranging from $1 to $6 a dozen. So they obviously think I charge too much… My eggs are filled with nutrients and flavor and are much more fresh.Why would anyone choose the path of eating things that do your body more harm than good & having it not taste as flavorful, right?
Some common terms for eggs:
- Conventional (caged)
- Cage Free
- Free Range
- Organic, Non-GMO and Soy Free
What is the difference between them all?
Below we will document the living conditions as well as common practices for each of the terms above.
Conventional (caged) – standard white or brown eggs, package will not specify anything except USDA inspected. May say “natural” as all eggs, regardless of production method, are technically natural.
Conventional eggs are from hens that are hatched in industrial hatcheries. The males are ground up alive as young as 1 day old. The females are sent to pullet houses to bring them up to laying age as fast as possible. Once of age, they are moved into industrial hen houses in individual cages. They are set up so that they may not turn around and their cloaca (where the egg comes from) is oriented so that the eggs end up on a conveyor belt. They live out the rest of their lives in this single bird cage until they are no longer producing in sufficient quantity.
Cage Free – same as conventional, however package will state cage free.
Cage free birds are identical to caged birds, except that the bird is allowed to roam within the industrial hen house. The houses are stocked in such high volumes that there is typically only 1 to 1.25 sq ft per bird, enough to cover the entire floor surface.
Conventional Caged & Cage Free Eggs (standard and non-GMO) typically have the following:
- Typically they have no sun as they are in large industrial buildings with forced fan ventilation.
- Antibiotics are administered unless package states otherwise.
- Hens are de-beaked to prevent them from pecking each other due to the stresses of the environment (cage free)
- Eggs are scrubbed and bleached in industrial machines which remove the protective layer ( bloom) from the egg.
- Shipped from somewhere else. Eggs are much older and less fresh than a local source due to transportation delays.
- Commonly fed the cheapest GMO feed that can be obtained. Most of the feed is based on mass produced GMO corn and soy. See our GMO page.
- Breeds are chosen for egg laying size and frequency only, not for flavor or quality.
- Proven to be less nutritious than farm eggs. One study available here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/free-range-eggs-zmaz07onzgoe
Industrialized free range eggs are typically raised in the same house as “cage free” eggs, as noted above, however they will have some level of outside access. The amount of outside access various from farm to farm, but can be as little as a 10×10 foot concrete area, to as large as a field. Per the USDA, there is no limit to the size of the outside access, only that the birds must be allowed to be outside. The outside area does not have to have grass, dirt, or dust for bathing.
Pastured is not a term that is recognized or regulated by the USDA currently. It is typically taken to mean that the birds were allowed access to a pasture (grass or similar). Unfortunately, on an industrial scale, as this is not a regulated term, this can mean allowed on a pasture for a portion of their lives, or for as little as an hour a day, etc. There is no way to know without visiting the farm.
There are non-governmental organizations who have set up standards for pastured eggs, although formal enforcement is up to the users. Those standards include:
- minimum of 108 sqft per bird of outside space
- minimum of 6 hours per day outside
- access to grass for foraging
Organic – Organic implies that the feed was entirely organic, that no antibiotics were utilized, and the feed was non-GMO (a requirement of organic feed).
Note that organic eggs can still be caged, cage free, free range, or pastured. Read the label closely.
Also noteworthy, the vast majority of industrial organic eggs are produced by the same large companies as the conventional eggs.
No Soy – As the name implies, the feed fed to these birds does not contain soy. As this is not a regulated term, it could mean no soy at the time of production of eggs, but it does not guarantee no soy from birth.
Non-GMO- As the name implies, the feed fed to these birds does not contain Genetically Modified Organisms. The term Non-GMO is not formally regulated, and can still contain pesticides and other chemicals. Non-GMO is a step above conventional feed, but not as heavily regulated as Organic.
- Hens must have at least 108 sf of space
- 6 hours – no minimum period of outdoor space
- Grassy area for them to eat
- Exercise and spacious to do what chickens want to do
- Vitamin D intake from sun which is 3-6 X more vitamin D!
- Darker yolk depending how much pasture they eat vs grains
- A more rich flavor with a more firm and round yolk & less watery
- Can have upto 30% more lift in baked goods that stays fresh longer
- 10% less fat
- 34% less cholesterol
- 40% more vitamin A
- 2-7 X more Beta Carotene
- 2-10 X more Omega-3 fats
- 2X more Vitamin E
- Typically contains higher levels of Carotenoids
- Can be fed GMO’s & soy
- Can have antibiotics
Here at Black Ridge Farm & Orchard:
Our hens are fully pastured, free range, no-soy organically fed, and given full access to pasture from dawn until dusk.
Our eggs are:
- Unwashed, leaving the natural bloom to protect the egg from bacterial contamination
- Fed a very high quality whole grain high protein layer feed. We do not use pellet feed, organic or otherwise.
- No antibiotics, no medication and nothing unnatural ever!
- Watered from a metal container not plastic. One concern we have is when a water bakes in plastic in the hot summer. I’m sure you have tasted a water bottle left in the car. We do not want our hens to have to drink the same so we use large metal drums for their water.
- During growth we supplement their water with organic raw apple cider vinegar as a natural antibiotic.
- Pasture grass is natural and not messed with or treated Our pasture is only fertilized by our birds and natural compost.
- And of course we are local!
Why are pastured eggs good for my health?
Pastured eggs have more of the following:
- stronger immune system
- fights diseases
- less fatigue
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Reduces low grade inflammation in your body. Inflammations leads to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type II diabetes, and other health problems.
- Pastured eggs have been shown to have up to 7 times as much beta-carotene as conventionally raised eggs.
What causes the yolk to be darker/thicker in pastured eggs?
Egg color reflects the chickens diet. Carotenoids in the diet create the dark orange in the yolk. Caroteniods are in carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, algee, marigold petals. Basically any plants which are red, orange & green are likely high in carotene. Carotenoids are important for humans as the are utilized to produce vitamin A, and also because they have antioxidant effects. Carotenoids also help prevent heart disease by inhibiting low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) from sticking to artery walls and creating plaques.
Carotenoids, as antioxidants, serve to protect cells from the danger of free radicals that may be produced by the body during metabolism or by cigarette smoke, sunlight, radiation, pollutants, or even stress.
Animals are not known to make there own antioxidants so they have to get it through food like Caroteniods.
If avoiding illness ranks high on your priority list, carotenoid-rich foods may benefit you. Carotenoids, a group of A vitamins that includes beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein, are leading forces in the fight against free-radical damage. Free radicals are associated with serious diseases, including macular degeneration and types of cancer. Carotenoids also promote healthy skin, bones and immune function. Seek guidance from a registered dietitian before altering your diet.
I encourage you to research the sources below for more information.
Resources & Sources
Mother Earth News
Dr. Kaayla Daniel
Pennsylvania State University
Ohio State University
Professor M. Monica Giusti, poultry biologist
Health Impact News