Confusing Egg Labels

We’re big on eggs here at Fooducate. They are a cheap and reliable source of protein, especially for meat avoiders. They are one of few foods naturally containing vitamin D and they are also a good source of vitamin A, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.

Due to their high cholesterol count (over 65% of the recommended daily intake) Eggs lost favor with consumers in the past decades. But current studies are pointing favorably to the egg, stating that most of the cholesterol formed in the human body results from saturated and trans-fats, and not the cholesterol in the egg.

Eggs have no trans-fat and only 8% of the daily value for saturated fat.

So you’ve decided to purchase some eggs. But there are so many options and labels. How do you know what to choose?

As in many products, the label includes many marketing messages, but not all of them have actual standing in facts. Here are some pointers.

What you need to know:

Omega-3 Enriched / Enhanced – the hens were fed either fish oil or flaxseed and passed the omega 3 second hand to you. Keep in mind that Omega-3 eggs are unregulated, so you don’t know how much omega-3 you’re actually getting.

Natural, Naturally Raised - unregulated, means nothing.

No Hormones, No Antibiotics – unregulated, means nothing.

Certified Organic -  the hens are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. They are uncaged, “residing” inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They may also be starved and de-beaked.

There is quite a riff now in the organic egg industry between the small family farms and the more industrialized organic egg facilities, who some believe have strayed from the true meaning of organic.

See the video below to understand (thanks, Mike)

Free range – There is no USDA standard for “free-range” egg production. Typically,free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access.

Cage free / Free run – even less promising than free range because no degree of outdoor access is implied.

Certified Humane -  Chickens not in cages but inside barns or warehouses. Access to the outdoors not a must.  Certain requirements must be met, for example, the chickens are able to perform natural behaviors.

Animal Welfare Approved – The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. Cage-free environments with access to outdoor pasture. They are able to move freely, socialize, and engage in natural, health-promoting behaviors. Beak trimming and forced molting are prohibited. Unfortunately, there are no participating producers that sell to supermarkets.
One last note – there is no difference nutritionally or otherwise between brown eggs and white eggs. The eggshell color is determined by the chicken type.
United Egg Producers – no special meaning, aside the fact that the hens are fed and given water. The majority of factory farms with tens of thousands of hens comply with this program.

What to do at the supermarket:

The ethics and morality of what animal derived food to eat is a very touchy subject matter, and beyond the scope of this blog. We wanted to present the information we collected and let each family make its decision based on taste, nutrition, price, and environmental/ethical considerations.

One last thing – if you’ve never tasted eggs from a local family farm where the hens truly are free in the range, you don’t know what you’re missing. Out of this world. Treat yourself to a dozen and taste for yourself.

Sources:

The Cornucopia Institute – Organic egg report card

The humane society – Egg Carton Labels

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  • Paula

    Here’s a link to the egg scorecard, I was disappointed that the store brand organic eggs I buy aren’t really organic. :(

    http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/

  • Tiffany

    Thank you for sharing this. I do buy organic eggs and found the brand I buy in there with a 2 egg scale it’s Country Hen in Hubbardston, MA.

    Any company or family farm, if they are going to do organic then they need to follow the strict guidelines to do so and not an excuse to raise the price for bigger profits.

  • Sarah

    What is the purpose of “de-beaking” and “beak trimming”?

  • Brooke

    @Sarah

    This is a process that keeps the chickens from injuring one another (pecking and feather pulling). As one might imagine it is more of a problem when chickens are in tighter confinement. It can be likened to a simple nail trimming all the way to severe pain to the chicken depending on who is describing the process. In my experience, it is only when the process is done incorrectly that it causes the chickens pain.

  • Bill

    My take from the video is that the eggs produced at those farms are technically organic. The problem is that they followed the letter of the rule, not the spirit.

    “All 10K hens can go outside if they want, they just have to use the door. See it down there, 500 feet on the left? They just like it better in here. What animal wants to be outside?”

  • Brooke

    @Paula

    I looked at this report and it seems to me that those companies that have only one egg simply did not comply with the survey (how many mail/e-mail/internet surveys have you ignored?), as in they received zeros for a “no answer” thus the reason for one egg. This is not to say that they are those companies are either good or bad for the lack of compliance/transparancy. My personal opinion is that it was irresponsible of the organization to post such misleading information. Perhaps I am mis-reading the information presented, but it sure seems that way to me.

    If the production practices are of concern to you, I suggest you contact the supplier you purchase from directly for more clarification.

  • Jason

    In my area, Whole Foods carries pastured eggs from Vital Farms. While it’s not ideal logistically as the eggs come from over 1000 miles to get here, in due time I hope it will push more local egg producers to move in the same pastured direction. Not much different from rise in interest in organic eggs over conventional over the past few years.

    The eggs are expensive at $6/dozen, but I think it’s worth it (for a lot of reasons). The biggest problem I think is consumers have just gotten use to paying so little for food anymore.

    Seventy to eighty years ago all eggs came from pastured chickens and people spent more of their paychecks on food. It’s a different world now. It’s just like fast-food where customers demand cheap food or people expect to get liters and liters of soda pop for as little coin as possible. Cheap = low quality food and production methods.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Jason you hit the nail on the head re: price of food.
      A “wonderful” thing happened – grocery food today is a much smaller expenditure as a percent of available income than it ever was. But we are just paying with a different currency – our health.

  • http://www.GreaterGoodLife.com Michelle Rogerson

    I found only one brand of egg (organic valley) that is rated decently in my area. I wish I could find some better quality eggs, but there are no farm markets for eggs in my area. At least i know what eggs NOT to buy. If they don’t have a good brand at my store, well, we just won’t have eggs. Something really needs to be done for people who are willing to pay a premium to have access to good food. in some areas of the country, that’s nearly impossible.

  • http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com Lauren Slayton

    wow, the 2 brands I use are onyl 2 egg and 3 egg, I will use Pete and Gerry vrs Country Hen although I wish I could get eggs with a better grade.

  • Chris

    The color of the egg yolk can tell you much about a hen’s diet and condition. The yolk’s color comes directly from the pigments in the foods that the hens eat. Eggs that have yolks with a deep rich orange color generally come from chickens that are allowed to forage for food including insects (i.e. truly free range).

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Chris
      Not always – industrial hen feed can be supplemented with carotenes as well, resulting in the same rich orange yolk color.

  • http://www.honestmeat.com Rebecca T. of Honestmeat

    You forgot to mention the term “pasture-raised” which although unregulated, normally means that the hens are outside on pasture and rotated around to some degree using portable hen houses or movable fencing. Your best bet is to buy direct from farmers at farm-stands or farmers markets where you can ask questions, see pictures, and maybe even tour the farm.

  • WilliamB

    My CSA gives us what they call “eggs from happy chickens” – chickens that run around on grass (probably in a cage on grass so they don’t become someone else’s dinner) and peck at seeds and insects as well as having mash/grain/chicken feed. The eggs are less than a week old when we get them and are amazing: the yolk is firm and almost orange and stands up tall when the egg is cracked. The center of the white is gelatinous and coherent and doesn’t run at all, while the rest of the white is a bit thin a runny. When fried, these eggs form three distinct levels, like terraced fields. They make terrific custard and ice cream, too. The one thing you can’t make well with fresh eggs is hard boiled. The fresh white sticks to the shell and makes a mess. I like HB eggs but I’m too impatient to wait 3-4 weeks for these to become old enough for good HB.

    • DeeH

      You should try the hard boiled egg product on the market now called “Eggie’s”! I bought them & absolutely love them. I too love hard boiled eggs, but don’t have the time nor the patience it takes to peel them. Also, they’re wonderful because I can now hard boil my fresh eggs the same day I buy them if I want. Please know, I have no affiliation what so ever with the company that makes Eggies. I’m just a very satisfied customer.

  • theshortearedowl

    “most of the cholesterol formed in the human body results from saturated and trans-fats”

    Query? Cholesterol is cholesterol; fatty acids are fatty acids. How does this work? Does overcomsumption of other fats increase cholesterol synthesis? Or is the “cholesterol” measured here actually lipoprotein complexes?

  • http://www.organicschoolproject.org/ Monica

    There is definitely a difference in the eggs I buy from the supermarket opposed to the ones I get from the farmers market! And I am so disappointed about the 365 brand eggs…

  • DeeH

    Are all egg companies required to list nutritional values on the egg cartons? If yes, how does a consumer report a company that is not complying?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      No nutritiion info required unless a claim is made (eg, omega 3, when the feed is amended to fortify/boost the egg nutrition).