- Food and Cooking
Eating to Instantly Improve your Health-Pastured Eggs
Eating healthy food should be as easy as picking whole foods; that is, foods not processed and packaged until they no longer resemble their original incarnation. Foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, as well as free range poultry and their eggs.
It should be simple, but research has shown that factory farming practices have taken much of the nutrition out of our basic whole foods. Eggs are one example of a whole food where the factory farmed version offers far less nutritive value than one from a pastured (free range) hen fed a proper organic diet.
How much better? An independent study showed that pastured eggs have 2-7 times more vitamin A, vitamin D, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from factory aviaries. The study suggests free range chickens get more exercise and eat healthier diets when they have access outside to forage in pastures. As a result, their eggs are nutritionally superior, and are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than those from factory-raised hens.
Factory Hen Farms
One look at a factory egg producer and it is easy to understand why pastured eggs are more nutritious. A factory farm houses as many birds as it can while still maintaining production levels. According to an article in farmsanctuary.org, the USDA requires no more than 4 inches of feeder space per hen. They are stacked in small wire ‘battery cages’ from floor to ceiling in commercial operations, which often have tens of thousands of hens in their aviaries.
Non-organic certified operations are not required to give these hens access to open air pastures. Quite the opposite; several sources reported that hens do not have enough room to spread their wings or move about in a normal manner, and they are injured from constant rubbing against the wire cages.
Such small confinement takes its toll. Hens who demonstrate excessive pecking behavior to deal with their claustrophobic surroundings end up losing their beaks; they are literally removed to prevent them from injuring themselves.
Considering each hen in a factory farm produces an average of 250 eggs per year, it is no surprise that their bodies are overtaxed. Hens can become sick and even die when they are too weak to pass an egg.
There are other dangers present in this type of commercial egg production. Widespread antibiotic use to treat the diseases that spread in these cramped quarters leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains.
This is bad news for livestock and humans, who may not be able to fight off an infection that is resistant to available treatments.
Choosing Organic Eggs
Avoiding factory farmed eggs requires some label reading. However, many labels use misleading marketing buzzwords.
What it means when it says:
“Cage-Free” Hens are not kept in battery cages, and so are able to spread their wings, stretch their legs, and lay eggs in a more natural fashion. Probably kept indoors in factory farming operation. This practice reduces Salmonella occurrences, but does not imply the absence of antibiotics.
“Free Range” may conjure up images of happy pecking chicken heads in an open green pasture, but there are no regulations requiring these operations to give the animals a specific amount of outdoor time or exposure to sunlight. Inhumane practices such as debeaking can still be practiced. About all the “free-range” label requires is that hens not be confined to cages.
“Pastured,” “Natural” and “Organic” are all terms that have questionable merit. On the one hand, ‘pastured’ eggs should mean the hens are kept in mobile shelters and given access to green pastures, while USDA ‘organic’ certifies that the hens were given feed free of pesticides, antibiotics and animal by-products. On the other hand, the ‘pastured’ label is not regulated by a third party, and the USDA ‘organic’ does not mean the hens are free from debeaking and forced molting practices.
The label “natural?” Pure marketing.
For cruelty-free, nutrition charged eggs, the highest standard is the “Animal Welfare Approved” label. This label requires the hens to be free to roam green pastures, nest, perch, and molt naturally. Beak cutting is not allowed. Egg producers with this label have been audited by a third party.
Not every natural egg producer is going to be certified of course. In the supermarket, look for pastured eggs from hens fed certified organic feed. Another good way to be sure of getting fresh eggs from happy hens is to buy from local farmers at farmer’s markets.
Not sure where to find ‘farm fresh’ in your area? Visit LocalHarvest.org and shop farms from California to New Jersey and Wisconsin. Local Harvest supports small farmers and sustainability.
Instantly Improved Health
Switching to organic, pastured eggs from healthy hens increases the nutrients your body receives as soon as you eat them. In this instance, an instant improvement to your health is as simple as choosing the right foods.
My Local Supplier
I did some research on my own eggs of choice when writing this article. The eggs my family eats typically come from Costco, who buys from a local Arizona producer called Hickman’s.
My initial impression of this farm was comforting. They started off as a small family farm and have grown over the years, and they support local farm production as an environmentally sound practice that benefits local economies. So far, so good.
Then I scrolled down to see a post titled ‘caged vs. free range eggs have no nutritional difference’ and ‘cage-free eggs (production) unsustainable.’ The content of these articles was just as their titles stated, and they offered validated counter-arguments to the ‘free-range/organic vs. factory egg farms’ issues. Dang, definitely a big factory farm.
I have no doubt there were studies with solid evidence negating the notion that cage-free is not nutritionally inferior. However, it seems logical that a free, healthy hen eating a nutritious, organic diet would produce superior eggs most of the time, and I am just as certain that studies coming to this conclusion were also accurate. Perhaps like every industry, there are good and bad players on both sides of the issue.
I will definitely look for pastured, organic egg producers in the supermarket or at local farmer’s markets in the future, but I know now that like most people, I get my eggs from a big factory farm and will still do so at least some of the time. Unless a reasonably priced and convenient alternative presents itself, I can’t afford not to.
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To read more on this side of the issue from Hickman’s Family Farms, go to:
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