Eggxam, Part 2

What labels on egg cartons mean (Source: Rodale.com article, The Truth About Your Eggs, by Leah Zerbe)

If you must buy commercial eggs, there is information that you can glean from the cartons that will give you some clues as to quality and level of animal cruelty in the raising of the chickens that produce the eggs.

“Cage-Free” Some commercial operations will promote the idea that they have “cage-free” chickens. What does this really mean? This is largely a marketing tool to give the consumer the impression that the hens are happy and healthy. It is not as ideal as a small pastured flock but it is better than tiny battery cages where most eggs are produced. They are kept inside an enclosed, often dark, building and there is no limit to the number of hens that can be in this set-up, therefore, frustrating their natural pecking order instincts. Cage-free has nothing to do with whether whole sale antibiotics were used on the chickens.

“Free-Range” or “Free-Roaming” Usually these types of operations allow chickens outside of cages in barns or warehouses, but they aren’t required to provide the animals any specific amount of time outside – or even exposure to sunlight indoors. There’s no third-party inspection required for free-range claims, and the chickens can be debeaked or forced into molting through starvation, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“Organic” A USDA-certified organic label means the eggs came from hens that were not enclosed in battery cages, and that they must be offered access to the outdoors. However, this doesn’t guarantee that the animals ever go outside. Organic eggs come from hens that were fed certified-organic feed, free of antibiotics, pesticides, and other animal products. Forced molting and debeaking are permitted in certified-organic production. Annual inspections are required.

“Natural” This means that the finished product hasn’t undergone certain unnatural processes. If this sounds vague – you are right- it means nothing.

“Pastured” Pastured chickens should be housed on grassland in portable shelters that are periodically moved to give the chickens fresh pasture, but there’s no third-party inspection required to ensure that’s what’s really happening.

“Omega-3-enriched” This means hens were fed feed with an increased amount of omega-3-rich flaxseeds. However, pasture-raised hens are already higher in beneficial omega-3s, and they get to be outside. This phrase has nothing to do with living conditions.

“Certified Humane”This means birds are not kept in cages, but they can be kept indoors. They at least have the space toperform natural behaviors. The program of Humane Farm Animal Care sets limits on the number of birds that can be contained in the same area, and outside inspectors perform audits. The program does not, however, require that the animals eat organic feed.

“United Egg Producers Certified” While forced molting is prohibited under this certification, debeaking is allowed, along with other cruel and inhumane practices, such as the use of battery cages. There are no guidelines for antibiotic use or any standards prohibiting animal by-products or growth promoters in feed. The guide lines were developed by the food industry, not independent third parties.

“Animal Welfare Approved” The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors like nesting, perching, and dust bathing, and birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is also prohibited. Antibiotic use is allowed, but any animal that receives them has to be removed from egg-laying operations for an “antibiotic withdrawal” period. And though organic food isn’t required, the program prohibits the use of animal by-products, and encourages GMO-free food whenever possible.

Chickens provide us with the gift of wonderful nutrition, the least we can do is provide them with humane living condions. Please support the small organic practicing egg and poultry producers or the Animal Welfare Approved producers.

That’s All Yolks!!