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Understand Package Labels on Organic, Free-Range, and Cage-Free Eggs
So, exactly how organic are these eggs?
If you've ever seen a video of a poultry farm, you know the deplorable conditions that the chickens are raised in. Most poultry farms are not actually farms-- they are long hen houses with closed windows and doors that house thousands of chickens. Often, the chickens don't have enough living space, so their beaks are chopped off to keep them from pecking each other. Because of the unsanitary conditions, the chickens are fed unnatural feed that is laced with growth hormones and antibiotics.
Knowing this, you can probably gather that most eggs sold in supermarkets aren't very high quality. If you crack a factory egg next to a more natural egg, you will notice differences in every aspect- the color, shape, the shell, the color of the yolk, and the taste. In general, country-style eggs have a tougher shell and are irregularly shaped and colored. They may be any shade of white, yellow, tan, or brown, and they may have spots on them. The yolk is a much brighter yellow, and the smell is much more "eggy". The flavor is richer and the nutritional content is unquestionably higher.
There is little question nowadays that organic foods from animals raised naturally are better for your health and the health of the planet. They are also better for your conscience, as most people don't like to imagine animals suffering in unsanitary and abusive conditions, even if they are animals being raised for consumption. But how do you know if you are really getting high quality eggs from the super market? Labels can be confusing and misleading. This little guide will help you decode egg labels.
What the label means: Cage Free
Cage free means that chickens aren't kept in cages. They might be allowed outside, but if they are from a large company, they probably are kept in long chicken houses. Their living conditions may or may not be healthy and comfortable.
What the Label Means: Fortified/ Vitamin Enriched
Eggs that are fortified or vitamin enriched are from chickens that are fed more nutritious feed that might contain vitamins or flaxseed. This is shown to produce more nutritious eggs.
What the label means: Free Range
Free-range chickens are technically given acces to the outdoors. However, this label has been found to be misleading much of the time. First of all, that access may be limited. There may be one small door for thousands of chickens to use. You can bet that most chickens never see the light of day. Also, that outdoor area is not necessarily pastureland.
What the label means: Organic
The USDA organic label is generally considered a "gold seal" of organic foods. Many small organic farms choose not to get this label because of costs or because they do give thier animals antibiotics in certain cases, such as when they are newborns or when they're sick. If the eggs have the USDA organic label, they are fed certified organic feed and they are not given any antibiotics or synthetic hormones.
What the Label Means: Pasture Raised
This is probably the most desirable label for health and quality reasons. Chickens are given extensive access to the outdoors, and that outdoor area is pasture. This means that chickens get a portion of their diet from natural sources, such as grass, worms, and insects, and that they are able to engage in natural behaviors, such as scratching.
The USDA recommends that you buy eggs that have been refrigerated and have no cracks in their shells. However, if you've ever had the pleasure to raise your own chickens or visit a household that does so, you know that eggs can be kept out without refrigeration for days.
Eggs from naturally raised chickens have more vitamin E and more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from factory chickens. The best way to ensure that you're getting a quality products is to buy fresh and local.