Organic, All Natural, Free Range, Cageless….What do all of these egg labels mean?
It can be confusing. Most of the confusion is by design. The big companies want you to believe their product is better than it really is. Sorting through all this misinformation can be daunting, but we are here to pass on what we have found in our research about what all of these things mean.
Organic means the feed is comprised of materials that are grown by a company or individual that has passed the USDA Certified Organic process. There are many flaws in the Certified Organic system, but whether those flaws make the whole system worthless or if it is at least better than the alternative is up to the individual.
All natural is a marketing term with absolutely no meaning what so ever. Just about anything can be called natural, but that doesn’t mean it should be eaten. A chicken can be fed nothing but raw sewage and it is still natural. Just completely ignore this as it is nothing but a good sounding word to make people think they are buying something healthy.
I see vegetarian fed eggs at the store and just shake my head. Chickens are naturally omnivores. They eat meat and veggies (and rocks, wood shavings, etc.). If you keep meat from chickens, they do not get the nutrients they require. This is (hopefully) made up for with some type of supplement. Chickens are supposed to eat bugs and other things we would consider non-vegetarian to have a complete balanced diet. This label is designed to sound good to people who don’t know that it is actually worse.
Cageless or Cage Free
Cageless, or Cage Free simply means they don’t live in a cage. Most laying hens are kept in a cage that is so small they cannot stand up, turn around, or even flap their wings. They live their entire lives in that cage, popping out eggs to fill the cartons lining the grocery store shelves. Cage Free is an improvement over these conditions. They are kept in a big chicken house where they usually only have 1 square foot of floor space per chicken, but at least they can stand and flap and move around.
When you here the term Free Range, you think of chickens running around the pasture eating what they can find and enjoying sunshine and fresh air. While this may be what Free Range means to normal people, corporate America and our government has changed the meaning. Now free range simply means the poultry has access to outside. It could be a giant chicken house with one little door that leads to a six foot square concrete slab completely enclosed with chain link. As long as that door is open part of the day, those 40,000 chickens are Free Range. While there may be some farmers selling their Free Range chicken or eggs that are actually Free Range, the ones you find in the grocery store almost all fall into this misleading category.
Ok, now that we have covered all the industry terms for poultry and eggs, where is the term that means free range since it isn’t Free Range? There isn’t a standard term for chickens raised the way they should be raised, out on the pasture eating grass and bugs, breathing fresh clean air and not the ammonia from the stench of the chicken house. There is however a term that is catching on with people who understand all of these terms. We are calling it Pastured Poultry. Pasture raised chickens lay Pasture Raised or Pastured eggs. It is what Free Range should have been, but doesn’t come with a corporate standard or any government rules or regulations. It does come from your local farmer, or most likely a backyard chicken enthusiast who just cannot stop getting more chickens and has way too many eggs for my family to eat. Oops, I mean their family.
These eggs may be slightly misshapen, will come in all shades of brown, white, and maybe some green or blue, but are so much better. They are better for your health and taste better. The shells will be much harder than you get from the store, and the yolks will be a much deeper yellow, or orange which is even better. The taste will blow you away. Support your local farmer or backyard chicken raiser. They do what they do out of love and respect for the animals, nature, and God’s creation. You can get the benefit of much healthier food with better flavor and keep the money you spend locally instead of lining big corporate pockets.