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Are Free Range Eggs A Healthier Alternative to Eggs?

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Last week I read a hub by CGull8m, one of my very favorite hubbers, which was entitled Seven or More Eggs a Week Raises Risk of Death.

Over and over we have heard that eggs are healthy, eggs are unhealthy, should eat them, shouldn't eat them. What is the truth? It is all the truth. The truth depends on which eggs were being used in each case.

First we must define the two types of eggs we will be talking about. Both are chicken eggs, but one is produced very differently than the other. Each method of production will get different results.

Factory Farming

Whether the eggs are brown, green, white or blue they mayhave been factory farmed. Even eggs that are marked organic are being produced in factory farms. In fact, even eggs marked free-range may not truly be raised in a free range situation because of how the USDA defines the terms.The USDA has very strict guidelines for what constitutes a free-range chicken, but there are not guidelines for free-range eggs. The term can be used anyway the producer wants, and is often abused.

Terms that you may find stamped on your egg carton at the local grocers include:Cage free, free range, Organic, and my personal favorite, vegetarian. These terms often mean that the chickens are not treated significantly different than the chickens that produce the cheaper eggs.

Cage free simply means that rather than 20,000 chickens being caged in a six foot by six foot room with their feet wired to the cage floor, they are free to roam about in that same six foot by six foot room. Free range may mean that there is a small door at one end of the room which leads to a small patch of dirt that the chickens may or may not find.

Organic is simply refering to the type of feed that is fed, it must not include chemicals. The chickens may, or may ot be treated ethically. And, finally, vegetarian means that the chickens are being given a vegetarian diet. This one akes me laugh because it sounds healthy and great but in reality chickens are omnivores and I have watched my own chickens snatch up unwary mice, snakes, lizards, and other creatures, including bugs. Chickens are not naturally vegetarian and a vegetarian diet is not going to make them healtheir.

The chickens raised in factory farm situations are understandably stressed. They are routinely debeaked so they will not cannabalize one another. They get little fresh air, live in a putrid environment full of their own waste, with lights on round the clock to encourage more production. Because of these conditions slamonella and other diseases are a real threat.

This happens at organic farms as well as nonorganic ones.

Pasture Raised

Pasture raised chickens are allowed to free roam and eat a well rounded diet of feed (usually organic) as well as fresh grass, greens, bugs, and whatever else they find. They are normally allowed to sleep at night without extra full spectrum lighting, and have free access to fresh water.

They are not debeaked, not subject to caging, and there is little concern of them canabalizing each other. Pasture raised chickens show relaxed behavior as they move around the property, making quiet noises and interacting with the other chickens.

The best way to be sure you are getting eggs from ethically raised, stress free chickens is to buy from someone locally. Visit the farm, if possible, and see the conditions for yourself. If that is not possible then research where your eggs come from, and don;t be afraid to call or email the company to ask for more information.

The Studies

In 1988 the co-author of The Omega Diet,Artemis Simopoulos, discoved that the eggs from pastured hens raised in Greece contained thirteen times more omega-3 fatty acids than the average eggs from the United States.

In 1974, a study conducted in Britian found that eggs from pastured hens had fifty percent more folic acid and seventy percent more B12 than eggs from factory-farmed hens did.

In 1997, yet another study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found eggs from free-range chickens had higher levels of both omega-3s and vitamin E than those from hens that had been raised in cages.

Finally, in 2003, Pennsylvania State University researchers found that the hens that were allowed to roam on pasture produced three times more omega-3s in their eggs than their sisters that were factory raised in cages. There was also twice as much vitamin E and a full forty percent more vitamin A in the yolks of the pastured birds.

The cholesterol level of a pature raised egg is 140g, according to the site Nutrition Data. The same size egg produced commercially has 200g of cholesterol.

Mother Earth News has been conducting studies and research for years and has found time and time again that the pasture raised chickens produce consistantly healtheir eggs.

Consider that the biggest argument that pasutre raised chickens produce eggs witht he same nutritional value as the chickens that are factory farmed comes from the Egg Board, with their twenty million dollar budget and army of lobbyists. Twenty million dollars paid to them by huge, corporate factory farms, to say that there is no difference despite the numerous studies to the contrary.

It Isn't Just California

Truly Pasture Raised Chickens

Of course the best way to insure that you are eating the healthiest eggs ever is to raise chickens.

It isn't difficult and many people can do it even in the cities with a helpful item called a chicken tractor. This keeps the chickens safe while still allowing them to be on pasture and eat living green grass. There is really nothing like collecting fresh eggs from your very own chickens every day.

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    • profile image

      Janet Avila 

      6 years ago

      Very useful information. It made me sick to think that helpless creatures are being treated this way. I will look for a local farm, and find out about cage free, pastured, organic chickens, and eggs. Thank you so much for this information. It was very informative,

      however gruesome.

    • profile image

      Anon 

      8 years ago

      This is crazy, I never realized there was such a huge difference in nutrition quality between "mass-produced" eggs and farm land. Think I'll ask around now to see if anyone has some chickens and wants to get rid of their eggs.

    • tjmum profile image

      tjmum 

      10 years ago from Isle of Wight

      Just hearing about it turned my stomach. I'm glad that it is banned here, just wish they would do something about all veal though. Living on a farm it is heart breaking hearing mothers bellow constantly for their calves after they are taken away. And they say animals are dumb!

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Tjmum-I probably should. I really don't look forward to the research that needs to be done for that article though. Those images are hard to get out of one's mind, you know?

    • tjmum profile image

      tjmum 

      10 years ago from Isle of Wight

      I know things are a bit different here in the UK with the clampdown on battery farmers classing themselves as free range. But I would definitely agree with you and buy from a local producer. There's nothing better than watching chickens foraging for themselves amongst trees (as this is where chickens prefer to be). Our love for cheap, easily accessable meat means that animals are treated worse than 'animals' and I live on a farm so I see it first hand (no, I don't run the farm, I just live here).

      My brother-in-law has just bought himself some chickens and when we move back to the Isle of Wight in a couple of weeks I will certainly be nagging him for some fresh ones! Great hub.

      PS Have you thought about doing one on the unethics of white veal that is still produced and much sought after in Europe (not the UK, it's banned here)?

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Bob have you checked with local harvest? Also if you have a feed store nearby ask them if they know of anyone selling eggs. They usually know everything at the feed store!

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      10 years ago from New Brunswick

      I used to get eggs from a friend who kept a few chickens free range but have moved and not been able to find a local source.

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Mike-that isn't totally correct. With the horrid conditions the chickens are livig in the eggs, and meat, is just more prone to disease and less nutritious. THAT is a cost that we should not be willing to pay, the cost of our health. There are programs that give people in 3rd world countries chickens for eggs, and goats for milk, and those animals are ultimately treated better than the ones in developed nations.

      Wellness- I know..It is funny how the public popularity will cause advertising to completely change

      Kerry, I enjoyed your hub, thanks

      Firead-that is true..our hens are good about keeping the eggs in the boxes

      Compu-thanks..I am glad you learned something. :) It is always best to make informed choices.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 

      10 years ago from London UK

      Eggcellent hub!! and pardon the pun!!

      This hub will make people think twice now before buying those cheap eggs that have come from tortured chickens..including me.!

      Organic and free range all the way:)

      Thanks..

    • flread45 profile image

      Frank 

      10 years ago from Montana

      I raised over 100 free range bantams,and had plenty of meat and eggs.

      The only problem is you have to watch the hens go to their egg laying areas,because they hide from you.

      They also keep the bugs,snakes and mice away..

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 

      10 years ago from USA

      Great hub and information! It's sickening how corporations abuse the spirit, if not the letter, of the law for their own benefit with "organic" and "free-range" eggs. I always have a laugh over the "vegetarian" claim too.

      I've "hubrolled" this to my Why Grassfed is Best hub: https://hubpages.com/food/grassfed

    • wellness5 profile image

      wellness5 

      10 years ago from Fondi, Italy

      Great hub - interesting to read in the UK press how supermarkets have had to cope with the rush for free-range chickens - shows what public opinion can do !

    • profile image

      Mike 

      10 years ago

      Good Hub! I always buy organic or free range eggs because they don't come from chickens fed with crap. I think it's important for all people who eat meat, or meat products, to underestand about the whole process from the farm to the store and make a conscius choice whether to eat it or not. We are not raising those animals anymore, we are producing them. Is that bad? Well, I don't know. More and more people are suffering from hunger in other countries; I don't think people who are hungry care whether the chicken was raised in a cage, genetically modified, or whatever. More chickens = less expensive food.

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Thanks. I feel strongly about sustainable living and supporting small ethical farms whenever possible.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      10 years ago from Around the USA

      Wow, this hub opened my eyes. I knew that chickens were kept in appalling conditions, but I wasn't aware that they were wired to the floor. I always buy organic, free range eggs thinking I was helping. Now I know better. I will try to find a local supplier. I am hoping to move to the country soon, though. If so, I will raise my own chickens. Thanks so much.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Marye! You are my hero! I am always apalled at the ways of factory farming. Your hub is absolutely the greatest. I hope lots will read it and learn.

      Thanks for a perfect hub

      regards Zsuzsy

    • donnaleemason profile image

      donnaleemason 

      10 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      We have a lady a couple of miles out of town who has free range hens and she supplies a lot of people here. The yolks aren't that insipid off yellow colour either. They look like real eggs. Great hub Marye.

      Donna

    • Evolving1 profile image

      Evolving1 

      10 years ago from United States

      Fantastic Hub. I'm a strong proponent of healthy/sustainable lifestyles, so really appreciate your effort here.

      Thanks for such a well balanced presentation on this topic.

    • stevemark122000 profile image

      stevemark122000 

      10 years ago from Southern California

      Excellent information. I eat organic whenever I can get it. I will use the local harvest map to check out some organic places here. Thanks

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