In our increasingly green world creating healthful food is getting more time in the spotlight. From concern over engineered seeds that grow infertile crops to avoidance of artificial growth hormones in cows, people are looking beyond just pesticides when wondering how healthful – and humane – their food really is. One way that people are expressing this concern is by demonstrating a willingness to pay more for the eggs in their refrigerator.
When it comes to eggs there is a huge variation in cost depending upon how the chicken is raised. A dozen white eggs with no particular description of the condition the chicken lives in can sell for as little as 85 cents. As you move up the price point ladder you find brown chicken eggs, grain fed chicken eggs, vegetarian chicken eggs, cage free chicken eggs, free range chicken eggs and even pasture raised chicken eggs. The most expensive of these can cost $3.85 or more per dozen, as much as 400% more than traditional white eggs. But what do all these labels really mean? Let’s take a look.
Brown eggs: The only difference between a white egg and a brown egg is the type of chicken that laid it. A brown egg is not any more healthful than a white egg, unless it can claim to be organic or something else, per the rest of this list.
Cage free: Cage free eggs come from chickens that are not housed in cages. This is a nice thing because many egg chickens live a pretty miserable life stuffed into extremely small cages where they cannot even turn around or move; they live just to eat what is put in front of them and lay eggs. But cage free really doesn’t say much; these chickens may not live in small cages, but they are likely to be confined to a small barn with no opportunity to go outside.
Free range: In the United States this title usually means that the chicken has access to an outside area where it can peck at the ground and see the sunshine. However, there is not rule about how large the area must be or how long the animal is allowed to enjoy the outdoor space.
Pasture raised: Some farmers are now starting a new type of chicken rearing that they call pasture raised. These chickens are allowed to live naturally in a pasture with access to a shelter. While it is not yet a legally monitored term, it is meant to indicate a chicken that lives a more natural life where it can engage in natural chicken behaviors.
Vegetarian eggs: These eggs come from hens that are fed a vegetarian diet. This means they are fed grains, but it may also mean that they are kept indoors or in cages to keep them from the natural chicken behavior of eating insects or worms.
Organic grain fed eggs: These eggs come from chickens that are fed organic grain (grain that has not been sprayed with pesticides or grown from genetically modified seeds). The hens have also not been treated with any artificial hormones or antibiotics.
Choosing the Right Eggs
Many egg factories and large farms keep chickens in close quarters so they can fit more chickens in less space. However, this causes stress for the chickens; hens do not lay as many eggs when they are under stress. So, the efforts to increase egg production can minimize egg production at the same time. Farm raised hens that have room to roam live a more natural, cruelty free life. This alone seems reason to pay a bit more for a more planet friendly egg. But opting for organic eggs is the best choice.
As we know from many studies, pesticides are causing more and more problems with human health. And we are learning that these pesticides residues can travel through the food chain. If we spray chemicals on grain, then feed it to a chicken, and then eat those eggs, we will get some pesticide. Perhaps only tiny amounts, but add that to the tiny amounts in the chicken meat that you eat, then the tiny amounts in the milk you drink, and on your daily apple… the list goes on. Just like eating calories from a broken cookie, a bite here and a bite there ads up. In our chemically laden world it seems little wonder that so many different varieties of disease and cancer are spreading like wild fire.