Popular terms like ‘cage-free’ and ‘organic’ don’t guarantee that eggs are nutritious—or cruelty-free. Whether you celebrate Easter for its spiritual significance, or if you simply enjoy it as an opportunity to inhale handfuls of chocolates and Peeps, chances are eggs are factoring into your festivities in some way, even if you’re only dyeing and hiding them. But how do you […]" />
Eggs — April 1, 2013 at 1:30 am

Not Just For Eggheads

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Popular terms like ‘cage-free’ and ‘organic’ don’t guarantee that eggs are nutritious—or cruelty-free.

Whether you celebrate Easter for its spiritual significance, or if you simply enjoy it as an opportunity to inhale handfuls of chocolates and Peeps, chances are eggs are factoring into your festivities in some way, even if you’re only dyeing and hiding them.

But how do you choose which type of eggs to purchase? Cage-free, free-range, organic—these labels all evoke images of happy, healthy chickens clucking through grassy fields. But in reality, these terms don’t guarantee the humane treatment of laying hens or the nutrient value of the eggs they’re producing.

That’s why when purchasing eggs—now, and for the rest of the year—it’s important to take certain steps to ensure what you’re getting is the real deal

Not All Labels Are Created Equal

First the bad news—some of the most popular egg labels don’t necessarily protect chickens from abuse.

Cage-Free: This label simply means the absence of a cage. It doesn’t mean the absence of fences or enclosures in general. It also doesn’t guarantee that chickens have access to an outside area. Birds that qualify as cage-free can still be packed tightly into an overpopulated and darkened barn.
Free-Range: When chickens are free-range, they’re required to have access to the outdoors—but that may amount to a narrow patch of dirt. Access to it can be a tiny door cut into the back of the shed, which in an overcrowded barn stuffed with hens, the birds may not ever notice, let alone use.
Organic: This label dictates that the birds are antibiotic and hormone-free, in addition to being provided with access to the outdoors. Still, some organic farms abuse the system by housing their hens in overcrowded sheds—with a small, unused door. Under certain conditions, some may also make their chickens endure the painful process of beak trimming that’s common in factory farms.
Certified Humane: According the Humane Society, even this certification allows for farmers to house chickens indoors at all times if they choose, and also permits beak cutting. A similar term, “American Humane Certified” allows laying hens to be caged.

What to Look for Instead

“Pasture-raised” is a label used increasingly by smaller, sustainable chicken farms to indicate that they legitimately raise their birds outside, on an actual pasture. Hens also enjoy access to shelter when they choose to take it, and they’re raised without the use of harmful chemicals or painful procedures.

The added bonus is that this kind of farming is as good for people as it is for the birds: Eggs from pasture-raised chickens are packed with more nutrients than their penned-in counterparts.

Where to Shop

While it’s important to find eggs that are labeled “pasture-raised,” it’s also important to verify their authenticity. The label remains unregulated, so it’s up to the buyer to do a little research.

To make sure pasture-raised eggs come from birds who are truly well-tended, consumers can explore a few avenues.

Whole Foods
Your Farmers Market

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