Decoding Egg Labels

I just realized that this is my third egg post in just a few weeks. Oops! I hope y’all like eggs as much as I do.

Anyhow, after a recent trip to the grocery store where I spent way too long scanning all the labels trying to decide which type of eggs I should buy, I decided it was time to do a little research to figure out what all the different labels mean. I figured many of you might want to know which eggs are best as well so I’m going to share my findings. Just in time for all the eggs we’ll be eating for Passover and Easter.

Decoding Egg Labels -- Which Eggs Are Best?

What do the labels really mean?

Pastured/Grass Fed

  • “free range” of grassy areas, perform their natural behaviors, and do not live primarily on grains or live in crowded warehouses
  • not necessary organic, although some farmers do use organic feed despite not having the “certified organic” label (ask your farmer about this)
  • some research has suggested that eggs coming from pastured hens may also be more nutritious than conventionally-produced eggs

Certified Organic

  • uncaged inside barns, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined
  • fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted
  • compliance is verified through third-party auditing

Free-Range / Free-Roaming

  • free-range hens are uncaged inside barns and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access
  • there are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted
  • no third-party auditing

Cage-Free

  • uncaged inside barns, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors
  • can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted
  • no third-party auditing

Conventional / Battery Caged

  • most egg-laying hens in the United States are confined in battery cages
  • each caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space (this is less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper)
  • unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted

Certified Humane (a program of Humane Farm Animal Care)

  • birds are uncaged inside barns but may be kept indoors at all times
  • must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing
  • forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed
  • compliance is verified through third-party auditing

Animal Welfare Approved (a program of the Animal Welfare Institute)*

  • the highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program
  • birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required
  • must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing
  • there are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes.
  • birds must be allowed to molt naturally
  • beak cutting is prohibited

*It seems as though eggs with this certification can be hard to find — I did a search for Animal Welfare Approved eggs on their website for Richmond, VA and found zero results.

Omega-3 Enriched Eggs

  • feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds

Sources: The Humane Society

So which eggs are best?

I think it depends on availably of the different types of eggs in your area and what you can afford. Given my research, pastured eggs are definitely my top choice. These hens are given the freedom to live happy, natural lives while eating grass, bugs and meal worms instead of a diet consisting only of grain. The issue is that pastured eggs are local, seasonal, and in limited supply so sometimes they’re hard to procure. They’re also more expensive.

At one point we had the luxury of buying our eggs from a family that raised pastured chickens at Isaac’s school. That’s no longer an option because they don’t raise chickens anymore but we still have a couple ways of procuring eggs from healthy, happy chickens: buying eggs directly from a local farmer at the farmers market. Again, this depends on the season and supply. My next choice would be free-range eggs (organic, when possible) and my last choice would be cage-free. I avoided conventional eggs, even prior to my research and I will continue to do so.

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    93 comments
    1. maddy
      May 7, 2016 AT 3:15 pm

      Have you ever tried searching “the truth about the happy egg company”
      Not everything is ever how it appears to be or how it is labeled.

    2. Jessica Z
      April 11, 2014 AT 10:15 pm

      I love frying eggs over hard with coconut oil!

    3. Lena
      April 11, 2014 AT 8:35 pm

      I wish I could say something more healthy but you didn’t ask for that. Favorite egg is fried and on a piece of toast. 🙂
      Thanks for this post, very informative I wish there was a way for me to share it (I may go back and look) I know a lot of people are confused about this topic and this is one of the best explanations. Thanks for the hard work that we benefit from.

    4. Sam
      April 11, 2014 AT 8:15 pm

      I love using eggs as dressing/sauce on EVERYTHING! My latest favorite is sunny-side up eggs broken over a big bowl of spaghetti squash with some nutritional yeast and liquid aminos. Any green veggies added in give it a little extra green- SO GOOD! 🙂

    5. Emily
      April 11, 2014 AT 7:01 pm

      I love egg salad in the spring!

Parchment paper lined with protein balls.

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