There are so many choices at your supermarket and knowing what the best choice is and why, is important to your health and to animal welfare. Many of you may know the difference, but to those who don’t, this article is for you!
For years, I was not an egg lover. Used them in recipes, but rarely ate them for breakfast. As the years passed and my diet changed drastically, I started to eat eggs as a source for protein. Eggs are also full of B-vitamins and choline—micronutrients which are important for brain development, muscle health, and energy levels.
Now most eggs in America come from conventional caged systems known as battery cages. Chickens are kept in tiny caged housing systems where the industry standard for space per bird is generally slightly more than 8 inches by 8 inches – that’s less than the size of a sheet of copy paper—closer to a mouse pad. The mass production and how they treat the birds is frightening. It was one of the reasons early on I didn’t eat eggs.
Most egg cartons are covered with descriptive terms, pretty pictures or phrases about their product such as; Farm fresh, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, no growth hormones, no antibiotics, organic, vegetarian fed, Omega 3 enriched, family farm, certified humane. Which one do you purchase? Many people think an egg is an egg and there isn’t a difference, so they go for the best priced ones in the plastic foam containers.
I started out doing just that, then went to purchasing the nicely packaged cage-free organic eggs—I thought it was a healthy, humane and better choice. It is important to look for eggs from hens that were not raised in traditional cages. Conventional cages do not provide hens with enough space to move around and be a bird.
Cage- free certainly sounded like the chickens were out in the green pasture free to roam and be a bird, it felt like purchasing farm fresh eggs from a local farmer.
But then I learned that cage-free was not what I envisioned it to be. A cage-free claim on an egg carton label means that the hens were not confined in cages. It does not mean that the hens had access to the outdoors. Mostly the birds are uncaged inside huge barns and required to have a minimum of 120 sq. inches per bird, but that’s not even double the space of conventional battery cages. And what are they eating on the barn floor?
Now, what about free-range eggs. That totally sounded better to me. Free range gave me the vision of boundless fields and lots of free happy hens using their natural behaviors foraging, dust bathing, perching and nesting. Well, free-range eggs are a step above cage-free in that they have the option to go outside; however, many hens do not actually wander outside their barns because the doors are small, only open for limited times, or don’t accommodate the entire flock. They are required to have at least two square feet of free-roaming outside pasture space, as stipulated by the HFAC Certified Humane standards. Better but still not a happy picture.
Our food industry is always playing games on the consumer and if we aren’t educating ourselves constantly, we will not be up on what the latest lingo really means. Cage free could also be a huge cage that is dragged around a field, and the chickens are very tight to one another just have grass or dirt under their feet. Is that humane? No, not to me it isn’t. I realized that was such a huge advertising gimmick and they really aren’t too much better than the conventional systems.
Now, on the market a new type of designation has come out, it’s called Pastured Eggs. These are true free-range eggs. Birds must be placed on a pasture for at least six hours each day. Each hen must have at least 108 square feet (15,552 square inches) of pasture that is covered mainly with living vegetation for them to roam and forage for their natural diet of insects, seeds, worms and plants in fields with lots of open air and sunshine. These hens lay nutritious eggs with bright orange yolks and average around 6-7 grams of protein, have one third less cholesterol, one quarter less saturated fat, two thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more Vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene. Tests have shown that the Vitamin D levels are 4-6 times higher and pasturing yields higher levels of folic acid.
When purchasing eggs or any animal product, look for the Certified Humane Shield on the packaging. You have the power to make a difference in the lives of farm animals.
Generally, it will cost quite a bit more, but well worth the extra dollars. I am always asked by the checkout clerk if the eggs are worth the price? Or what kind of eggs are these? I always tell them they are worth every dollar. If you are using eggs as a protein meal source, involved with your diet and nutrition, use healthy ones!
To your health and well-being,