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Understanding egg marketing labels

Published 4:35pm Saturday, March 10, 2012

I used to feel pretty good about buying my cage-free eggs, until I found out that cage-free isn’t exactly what it’s cracked up to be.

Free range, cage free, organic. What does it all mean?

Marketing labels are perhaps the most confusing part of this whole “eating healthy” game. So what do the various terms you see on the packages mean?

•Conventional (i.e., no special label): Typically less than half a square foot of space per hen, not giving enough room to even spread their wings.

•Cage free: As it says, the hens are able to move about inside a barn without being confined to cages. A better life, but not optimal as parts of beaks are often burned to prevent pecking at themselves and others, which is a sign of distress.

•Free range: Implies chickens on lush green pastures.

Actually it’s not a regulated term for eggs so this can be used by absolutely anyone. Really all that’s needed is a door to the outside that gives the chickens “access” to an outdoor area, whether they actually use it or not. This is a meaningless term.

•Organic: This means the hens were fed organic feed. I think it also means no animal by-products in the feed.

This does not mean that they are allowed to roam in their natural environment and eat their instinctive diet.

•Vegetarian: The hen is fed a vegetarian feed. I would like to point out that chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians, and will naturally eat bugs, grubs, etc. This term is used to imply healthier in our anti-meat culture.

As you can see, few of the terms on the egg carton actually mean a whole lot.

Other than organic and vegetarian, it’s pretty useless. But there’s one more term that actually means what you want it to mean.

Pastured means the chickens were raised on pasture, with access to the sun, grass, bugs and possibly supplemented with grains and other feed.

The most nutritious eggs come from chickens that are allowed to roam in the sunshine and eat their natural diet.

When chickens are housed indoors and deprived of greens, their meat and eggs also become artificially low in omega-3s.

Eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 10 times more omega-3s than eggs from factory hens. It has been estimated that only 40 percent of Americans consume an adequate supply of omega-3 fatty acids.

Twenty percent have blood levels so low that they cannot be detected.

Switching to the meat, milk and dairy products of grass-fed animals is one way to restore this vital nutrient to your diet.


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