Pasture-raised, cage-free, free-range “Oh my”
Shopping for something as simple as eggs will find you reading cartons using terms such as certified organic, cage-free, range free, pasture-raised, all-natural, omega-3 enhanced, pasteurized, etc. Let’s look at what it all means and whether it is worth the extra $$ for certified organic, certified humane, non pasteurized pasture-raised non-GMO eggs. I think the answer is “yes.”
Breaking down the terminology:
- Caged eggs – Caged for their egg-laying lives and given 67 square inches each. They eat a diet of corn or soy. (this is just smaller than a piece of paper 8.5 x 11 inches)
- Cage-free eggs: These birds are given more room than caged hens but still less than 1 square foot. They are confined to barns and eat a diet of corn or soy.
- Free-range eggs: These birds are given less than 2 square feet but don’t go outdoors too often. They usually eat a corn or soy-based diet.
- Pastured-raised eggs: These birds have at least 108 square feet per hen. They eat a combination of supplemental feed (usually corn and soybean meal) and whatever they can find in the dirt when they go outdoors, including grass, worms, and bugs. They can be out all day and bed in the bard at night.
Let’s talk pasteurization for a moment. Pasteurization is a heating process designed to eliminate pathogens and extend shelf life. Pasteurization is not a natural process with anything to do with farming; however, you will see the label “pasteurized” on egg cartons. Pasteurized eggs are not the same thing as pasture-raised eggs to clarify any confusion between pasture-raised and pasteurization.
Warning – Disturbing information on the treatment of hens
According to The Humane Society of the United States, “most producers remove parts of hens’ beaks in the first few days of life to control the impacts of severe feather pecking and manage welfare issues. Some starve their birds to force molting (loss of feathers) to manipulate the laying cycle. And virtually all commercial operations are supplied by hatcheries that kill male chicks shortly after hatching (typically by grinding them alive) since they don’t lay eggs.” Thankfully, we have certifications for organizations raising hens and selling eggs to distinguish their facilities above the egg mills using inhumane techniques to produce eggs and increase profits.
Animal Welfare Approved by A Green World (AGW)
Animal Welfare Approved has the highest standards, in my opinion, of any third-party auditing program. Highlights include:
- Prohibits forced molting through starvation
- Prohibits beak cutting, trimming, or tipping
- Prohibits feed containing meat or animal byproducts.
- Flocks must have less than 500 birds
- Each hen must have 1.8 square feet (259 square inches) of indoor floor space and must be able to nest, perch and dust-bathe
- Birds must have continuous access to an outdoor area for ranging and foraging
- The outdoor space must be covered by growing vegetation and must provide at least 4 square feet (576 square inches) of space per bird
Click here for full details
I am providing a directory of Animal Welfare Approved locations to search for products in your local area. I am not lucky enough to be close enough to purchase local Animal Welfare Approved (AWG) farms. If you are not close to one of these areas, you can check out two popular alternatives below. Do your research and find a brand you are comfortable with or choose to stop eating eggs altogether.
Certified Humane and American Humane Certified
Certified Humane and American Humane Certified agencies certify egg-laying hens with similar standards as the Animal Welfare Approved by AWG. Both of these organizations prohibit forced molting through starvation but do allow beak trimming/tipping. This last point causes me to place Animal Welfare Approved by AWG as the top certification with Certified Humane and American Humane Certified as second.
Handsome Brook Farm Organic Pasture-Raised
Handsome Brook Farm Organic Pasture Raised Eggs Are American Humane Certified™. They are USDA Organic Certified and Kosher-parve. The Hens are ethically raised on small family farms and do not contain GMOs, pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics.
Author note: as of 11/12/2020
Vitale responded to my email asking about their beak cutting or trimming practices since this practice is “allowed” by the Certified Humane® practices. Vitale does not debeak any of their hens and instead use beak tipping, a painless process performed within the chick’s first 10 days. For more information and images on beak tipping please visit Certified Humane.
Eggs are a great source of protein and other nutrients such as Vitamin A, B5, B12, B2, D, K, and E, plus Calcium and Selenium, Folate, and Zinc. With 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fats, eggs are very nutritious. I hope you take this information and make the decision that is best for you regarding your consumption of eggs and the farm or organization providing them.