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Understand Package Labels on Organic, Free-Range, and Cage-Free Eggs

Updated on November 8, 2011
Farm raised chicken
Farm raised chicken | Source
Free Range Chickens
Free Range Chickens | Source

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.

Organic Eggs
Organic Eggs | Source

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.

Organic Eggs
Organic Eggs | Source

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.

Free range eggs
Free range eggs | Source

Closing Thoughts

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.


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    • GingerMarie profile image

      GingerMarie 6 years ago from Texas

      You're welcome. A country upbringing is very peaceful. Good luck on giving your kids that country upbringing, when you settle down. :)

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      @GingerMarie- I'm sure that being close to people who owned a farm helped develop your views on this, and also let me just say, you are quite lucky! I dreamed of having a farm while I was growing up! I still dream about having one when I'm older and ready to settle down, and if I have kids, I'd like to give them a nice country upbringing among animals and plants. Thanks for the nice comment :)

    • GingerMarie profile image

      GingerMarie 6 years ago from Texas

      I had relatives who had a farm and would visit from time to time. I think letting people know about what their buying is a great idea, It opens the eyes of many people and can change their thought process. Enjoyed it.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      @Prasetio- I like to make eggs in the morning too, because they keep me full all day. Thank you for commenting and rating it up, and I'm glad you found it useful! I don't know how eggs are where you live, but here there is very good quality and very bad quality, so it's important for people to know what they're buying!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      This was nice information. I learn many things about eggs from you. I often make scrambled eggs in the morning. It gave me powerful protein. Thanks for share us. Rated up!


    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      @ Cousin Fudd- You are lucky to have grown up on a farm. I always wanted animals and nature when I was a kid. Well, we did live in the country, and I did have a dog, so at least I had part of my wish! I can tell a huge difference too. When I settle down, one of the first things I'm going to do is buy a few chickens so I can enjoy delicious eggs. Thank you for responding.

      @T-Parker- Wow, you've made my stomach growl! I haven't had the good fortune of having many breakfasts like that. It is amazing how we can really taste the difference in flavor according to the lifestyle of the animal and the feed. I think happy animals produce better tasting food anyway :). And you are right about the additives- if we eat local, we don't need all that crap in our food, especially meat, which is dyed, preserved, and altered in so many ways. I'm glad we share this view. Thanks for leaving the awesome comment, and keep spreading the word! If enough people take this seriously, we can make big changes in the way our food is produced.

      @MarloByDesign- thanks for the comment. It can be really confusing to see all these labels, especially once you know that most of them really don't mean anything at all!

      @VeronicaFarkas- Thank you for commenting! And Thanks for the votes!

      @Eiddwen- I appreciate your comment and the votes. I hope to publish more hubs on similar topics because they are important and everyone deserves to know what they're putting into their bodies. Good luck!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      I loved this one and vote up up and away!!!

      I now look forward to reading many more by you.

      Take care and have a great day.


    • VeronicaFarkas profile image

      Veronica Roberts 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Nicely-written hub with great information.

      Voted up & useful!

      T-Parker, I loved your comment as well, and agree.

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 6 years ago from United States

      Really great Hub - I have often wondered what all this means. Now I know. Actually, after reading your Hub, I may stay away from eggs for a while... :) Voted USEFUL.

    • T-Parker profile image

      T-Parker 6 years ago from Greater Toronto Area

      I've had the privilege of eating a fair number of breakfasts in Northern Ontario based on eggs freshly laid at the neighbour's place up the road - and have ALSO had the great privilege of working at arguably the most conscientiously "natural and organic" grocery-chain in existence, the extravagantly-priced Whole Foods Market, (where producers of verifiably organic/natural food-products find the exorbitant recurring licensing fees more than made up for by sales revenues...) and have developed a healthy appreciation for the difference between "organic" or "naturally-raised" foods of all sorts and "traditionally-raised" meats and produce...

      Nothing in the world beats an early-morning breakfast of backyard-grown, pesticide-free tomatoes on home-baked, preservative-free bread with one or two days-old eggs from the neighbour and last week's hog-slaughter's fresh bacon... Too many people take the commercial food-industry's health standards for granted without understanding that removing all the excessive processing and preservatives (an unfortunate necessity for long-distance distribution, but totally unnecessary for local consumption!) results in an incredible benefit for hungry PEOPLE!

      Fantastic Hub! It's important to spread knowledge about consumer food-products, for the sake of consumers everywhere!

    • profile image

      Cousin Fudd 6 years ago

      Great hub. Having been raise on a farm where we had chickens I can tell a huge difference in my eggs. I like the country eggs over those produced in large poultry farms. Interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.