When you see the words “cage free” on a carton of eggs, you’re probably not picturing a warehouse packed with hens with no access to natural light or fresh air. The label on the carton looks so fresh and shiny - and healthy. And you might not guess that the hens laying your eggs eat food laced with pesticides, feather-meal and other types of waste. But the reality is, cage free doesn't mean much, except you may be paying a little more for that shiny label.
Egg-buying has become quite confusing because of all the choices. Your best choice? Raising your own hens, giving them open space and feeding them organic. Of course, most of us are not able to do this, so next best is to find someone who does. You may get lucky and find them at your local market, Farmer's Market or an online ordering service.
What's the best? Pasture raised organic. When you find them you may think they are quite expensive at $5 - $7 a dozen on average as compared with $2.00 per dozen for plain brown or white eggs. In the end, they only cost about $.45-.60 per egg. Less than a bag of chips and superior in nutritional value.
The Cornucopia Institute developed a comprehensive list of companies and farms that sell eggs they describe as pasture raised. In it you will find variations in overall quality that may help you decide which are best for you.
Pasture-raised eggs support sustainable farming and are superior in nutritional value, not to mention more humanitarian in the way the hens are cared for.
What I've learned through the years is we cannot rely upon USDA or FDA guidelines when it comes to food because their guidelines are quite broad and focus more on food safety than food quality. You can see more here about the differences in how hens are raised, from best to worst.
1. Pasture-raised Organic. These are best. The hens are raised outdoors with plenty of grass to eat, often being moved across the farmland to access fresh grass. They are fed USDA organic feed. Wholesale cost is about $4.50-5.50/ dozen.
2. Pasture-raised, non-organic. These hens are raised outdoors also. The difference is they eat non-organic feed, resulting in somewhat lower cost than their organically fed neighbors. Wholesale cost is about $3.50-4.50/dozen.
3. Organic. These hens are mostly raised indoors with limited access to outdoor air and light. They eat only USDA Certified Organic feed and are not caged, but their quality of life is inferior to their pasture raised relatives. Wholesale cost is about $3.50-4.50/ dozen.
4. Cage Free / “free-range.” Up to 100,00 of these hens are crammed into a warehouse. They have no light, fresh air and eat low quality feed. Documentaries on conditions for these hens are heart-rending and would have you gladly pay for a higher quality egg. Wholesale cost is about $2.50/ dozen.
5. Caged. You may not see the word "caged" on the label. It may just say large, extra-large, etc. This is even worse than cage free. They can be in a small cage with up to 8 other birds according to regulations. Their food comes to them through a conveyor belt, They are never outside. California has banned caged eggs for their inhumane raising techniques and their poor nutritional quality. Wholesale cost is about $1.50/ dozen.
With this information, do you think it's worth it to pay $.60 for an egg that's pasture raised /organic? It seems like a small investment for both nutritional and humane reasons to make this kind of choice.
What are your thoughts? Comment below and start the conversation. What choice do you make? How often do you eat eggs? If you want to buy pasture raised and are having trouble finding them, contact me with your address and I will see what I can find for you.