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!

    6. Marin
      April 11, 2014 AT 3:31 pm

      Awesome give away! I love poached eggs, and just learned how to make them at home.

    7. Amanda
      April 11, 2014 AT 2:53 pm

      Smoked Salmon eggs benedict is my favorite! But I love pretty much everything egg related!

      Thanks so much for doing the research on this topic! I feel much better informed!!

    8. Meg S
      April 11, 2014 AT 12:19 pm

      This has made me so hungry for eggs! Lately I’ve been loving them soft boiled or if I’m really treating myself – Eggs Benedict. Yum.

    9. Jen
      April 11, 2014 AT 9:55 am

      Thanks for this helpful guide – definitely something to think about. I’ve gotten really into fried eggs with coconut oil lately!

    10. Dalia
      April 11, 2014 AT 8:53 am

      My favorite are poached eggs! They don’t feel overcooked, and there’s so much you can do with them. Yum. A soft boiled egg is pretty delicious too! Today though, I had a sunny side up egg next to my coconut yogurt, granola and fruit.

    11. Josh
      April 11, 2014 AT 8:53 am

      Great article, very informative. I always hated eggs as a kid, but lately have found that I’ve developed a taste for them. The free range, organic, cage free, pastured, etc. eggs seem to have a better flavor than any of the traditional methods, so that helps, I’m sure.

      My favorite(s): over medium or over hard for a quick breakfast, but if I don’t have to cook it myself, Eggs Benedict every time!

    12. Sarah T
      April 11, 2014 AT 8:17 am

      I love eggs, my favorite way to eat them is a fried egg over black beans & rice. Sounds strange but it’s delicious!

    13. Sarah
      April 11, 2014 AT 4:36 am

      We have 15 hens and 1 rooster; they are our pets and we work hard to ensure they have a wonderful life. Ironically, I am a vegan, although my boyfriend still eats eggs. When we bought our first chickens three years ago, I was amazed at how curious, active, and sociable they are. To think that the majority of chickens are housed in tiny, indoor cages, which is completely anathema to their natural inclinations, is truly appalling. However, it is important to understand that most chickens – even those kept in the most ideal, commercial circumstances, are culled every 2-3 years. By ‘culled’, you can safely assume this means they are slaughtered in a frightening and violent manner. A hen’s fertility greatly diminishes after the first 2-3 years, and egg-production declines accordingly. As such, most commercial egg-producers do not want to subsidize the maintenance of chickens who are not laying at the optimal level. We acquired several chickens that came from a pastured, organic operation, and they were the most physically unhealthy and mentally unstable chickens we have ever encountered. Both died prematurely. Incidentally, chickens can live up to 10 years, so keep in mind that if you eat eggs, you are far from an innocent bystander in a benign industry. Another thing to consider is that approximately 50% of baby chicks raised for egg-producing operations are culled (aka: brutally handled and killed) shortly after birth. They are casually thrown – ALIVE – into trash cans or crushing machines to suffocate in fear and complete helplessness. So, enjoy your eggs!

    14. HAHM
      April 11, 2014 AT 12:40 am

      Scrambled eggs with ground turkey, green enchilada sauce in a whole wheat wrap

    15. HAHM
      April 11, 2014 AT 12:26 am

      Our favorite these days would be
      Scrambled eggs with ground turkey green chili sauce on a whole wheat wrap

    16. Madeline
      April 10, 2014 AT 9:44 pm

      I absolutely adore an egg salad sandwich!

    17. karina
      April 10, 2014 AT 9:26 pm

      Hard-boiled!

    18. Angel
      April 10, 2014 AT 9:20 pm

      Thanks for the info! Can’t wait for the day that I can raise my own chickens and not have to deal with these issues!

      My favorite way to eat eggs is a power meal: egg over-easy on top of quinoa with fresh parmesan flakes, shelled edemame, and a bit of cracked pepper. The way the yolk mixes with the earthy texture of the quinoa….mmmmm. My fiance thought I was crazy when I first made this, but now he’s hooked!

    19. Emily
      April 10, 2014 AT 9:11 pm

      I love eggs any way, but my favorite is 1 egg, 2 whites scrambled with lots of veggies!

    20. Denise
      April 10, 2014 AT 8:28 pm

      I LOVE eggs any way I can get them! My most recent favorite way to eat them is cooked over medium in coconut oil and placed atop a bowl of hot beans, any type, (great northern, lima, black, kidney, etc!) Oh my heavens!!

    21. melissa
      April 10, 2014 AT 7:50 pm

      i love egg whites with jam & toast. or a whole fried (runny yolk) egg on a salad!

    22. Brenna B.
      April 10, 2014 AT 6:23 pm

      I love veggie frittatas! Sautéed onions, sweet peppers, and fresh spinach with crumbled feta on top of the frittata, YUM!

    23. Claudia McKenzie
      April 10, 2014 AT 6:02 pm

      I LOVE EGGS!!! I really love them fried, crispy on the edges but runny yoke!!!! yummy!!!

    24. Kelly Schaefer
      April 10, 2014 AT 5:58 pm

      I love family eggs. One of the guys I work with used to bring me 2 dozen every week. Oh yes, I love my eggs. Every morning, in an omelet, scrambled, and my family DEVOURS my egg salad as do my BFF and close friends at work. He quit bringing in eggs and I’ve been bummed having to buy them from the grocers. They are simply NOT the same! Would love to win! Thanks, Kelly

    25. Alex
      April 10, 2014 AT 5:50 pm

      Wow – great article. It makes me want to raise my own which many do here in Maine. My family and I eat eggs for all 3 meals and will be more sensitive as to where my eggs come from now on!

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