Cracking the Code on Egg Labels

Image: Organic Lifestyle Magazine
This is something I've been trying to figure out lately.  How do you find good eggs? Well I know conventional eggs are just bad, but is cage free, organic, or omega 3 enriched better?  I  know that you want eggs that have access to outside (less likely to be diseased and gets vitamin D from the sun so their eggs have a higher amount of vitamin D, and you want them to eat grass, produce, bugs, and feed enhanced by omega 3's like flax.  So how do you know if they're getting all these things?  What's most confusing to me is how to know your eggs are pasture raised and not just in larger cages or allowed to go out onto concrete every once in awhile.   To make matters even more confusing there is no legal definition of cage free.  


What do Egg Labels Mean? 
  
Cage free
this means the birds are not caged but does not mean that they have access to outside.  They are often in barns or warehouses. 

Organic
Organic eggs have regulated standards that they must come from chickens that are uncaged and have some access to the outdoors, although this can be limited and might not be pasture. They are fed an organic vegetarian diet free of animal by-products, pesticides and genetically modified food.

Free Range
This means the hens are uncaged and have some access to the outdoors from the barn or warehouse, but since this is not regulated, there is no way of knowing how long those hens actually do spend outside or what the outside is like (it could be a concrete slab).

Pasture Raised
There is no regulation of this term, which implies that hens get at least part of their food from foraging on pastures for greens and bugs.  The best way to know if it truly is allowed to forage on pasture is to look at the color of the yolk (see above photo).

Omega 3 enriched 
 while they are likely caged at least you know that they are fed Omega 3 food and therefore have the right kind of fat.  If your on a budget this is what I would recommend because it's typically half the price of  organic eggs.  Keep in mind this is not regulated so it's hard to say how much Omega 3 is in it.

Animal Welfare Approved
The Animal Welfare Approved labeling  is one of the highest animal welfare standards. The chickens have access to pasture and to shelter. They are given vegetarian feed. No antibiotics or beak cutting is allowed.  This rating is regulated.

For more info on egg labeling check out this Red book article.
So What Are The Best Eggs? 

Personally I am most concerned that the eggs I eat are not fed just grains, and if they are that they don't have pesticides and aren't genetically modified.  Why?  Well you are what you eat eat's.  If you eat an animal product that is eating grains you will have an imbalance of omega 6 to omega 3's.   And if they're eating GMO and pesticides so are you.

Your best bet is to buy from a local egg producer that you know of the specific practices used and could even visit to see the chickens yourself if you wanted to (assuming the farmer wouldn't mind having you over of course). I usually buy from Larry Schultz who sell all over MN.  The farm is in Owatonna, MN and is free range, organic, and uses flax based feed for their birds.  If you want more info on them the Wedge Co-op has a great description.  You can also get Larry Schultz eggs at Seward Co-op in Minneapolis.  You can learn more about your local egg producers at Eat Wild to find one in your area. The Cornucopia Institute made an egg score card that rates individual farms nationwide and brands.  Check it out to see how eggs in your area stack up to their ratings.  They listed our Larry Schultz as very high (beyond organic) and organic store brands as low as a whole. 

If your concerned about making sure your eggs are foraging (eating grass and bug) one way you can tell is by how deep the egg yolks are.  The above photo from Organic Lifestyle Magazine shows a great example to help show you how it should look.
 
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