Eggs used to come in two varieties, either the kind you bought at market or that you collected from the henhouse. But walk into a supermarket today and you will likely become overwhelmed with a whole host of varieties, labels and choices. There’s farm fresh, cage-free, pasture-raised, organic, all natural, no hormones added and no antibiotics used. Buying eggs has become far more complicated. And what do all these terms mean? Here’s how you can sort out the choices and select what works for you. Though farm fresh may give you the impression that they are locally sourced, that’s not the case. In fact, farm fresh is just a bit of marketing, according to the Paul Shapiro, vice president of the Humane Society. So when you see farm fresh, know that they can just as easily be referring to a factory farm far away. All natural is another misleading term. It’s good to know that these eggs weren’t made in a lab. Most of the eggs in the U.S. come from birds raised in what are called battery cages. This is 12 birds to one cage, each allowed 67 inches of space. That’s roughly the size of your average tablet computer.
Cage-free may make you picture birds living as if in a child’s storybook, roaming a bucolic setting with a red barn in the background. But what it usually means is instead of cages, these birds live in industrial barn. These are called aviaries. The birds are packed together with each bird inhabiting approximately one square foot of space. Chickens can perch, spread their wings, walk around and lay eggs. They live a more natural lifestyle. You may see the label No Hormones. This is misleading. No poultry operation in the U.S. is allowed to use hormones on birds as part of federal law. No Antibiotics is also a bit of creative advertising, as they are rarely used in poultry farming. Free-range chickens can get outdoors, usually on a little fenced-in patio. For organic eggs it means that under USDA guidelines the chickens can receive no hormones or antibiotics, must be free range and receive organic feed—those that contain no synthetic pesticides. Pasture-raised is as close to natural as possible. The birds live in a barn and have access to the real outdoors. They also eat worms, bugs and grain which may or may not be organic. Now you know all the egg choices there are and can better select what works for you and your family.