How to Read Organic Egg Carton Labels
Organic Egg Carton Labels
What does all that organic stuff on those cartons mean anyway? With all the recent recalls on eggs, its important that you understand what the labels mean. The healthier choices you have for your family the better odds are you family will not get sick from bad food.
What does it all mean?
• "Cage-Free" "Cage-free is certainly not like Old McDonald's farm," explains Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States. But it's a lot better than battery cages, where most eggs are produced. "Cage-free" means that animals are not kept in cages, but generally they are kept inside in an enclosed building. While this is less than ideal, at least this setup gives animals a chance to spread their wings and lay eggs in nest boxes, which is closer to their natural behavior. Cage-free does not imply antibiotics were not used on hens.
• "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 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; in this case, that product is the egg. However, just because eggs are labeled natural doesn't mean a hen wasn't pumped up with antibiotics or other unnatural substances. And it certainly doesn't mean the chickens were raised in clean, humane conditions. For all intents and purposes, natural 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. Your best bet is to buy eggs from pastured hens at a local farm that raises the hens organically, ensuring they're not exposed to pesticides, animal by-products, or antibiotics.
• "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. Technically, caged hens could also be fed flax feed, so don't equate this label with better living standards.
• "Certified Humane" This means birds are not kept in cages, but they can be kept indoors. They at least have the space to perform natural behaviors. The program of Human 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" Shapiro says this, along with "natural," is one of the most misleading claims made on an egg carton. 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.