Information on Egg Labeling in the Supermarket, What is Worth Your Money?
Egg buying has become very confusing, with a large mix of certifications, terms and phrasing on packages- many buyers are left wondering, when and what is worth the extra bucks? Check out my guide below of what the terms mean (or don't mean) and which terms are worth the extra bucks in my humble opinion(denoted by this ***). I also really like this NPR article:
I would pay more for this, it is a very specific term that guarantees the hens are not caged, fed an organic diet, receive no antibiotics or GMO foods.
This term really means nothing, it is not a regulated term so ANY producer can put this term on their label.
Again this is not regulated so any producer can put this on it’s label.
Omega 3 ***
This is also NOT regulated. However it is a great way to get some more omega-3 fatty acids. The hens are fed fish oil or flax oil to increase the omega-3s in the eggs laid.
Another unregulated term, however it means just what it says. The hens laying the eggs don’t live in cages, but this doesn’t mean they are in a “good situation”, or even outside.
So what is the difference? These hens can move around, perch and lay their eggs in a nest, and depending on how many other hens are around, they may be able to spread their wings.
Pasture Raised ***
I would also pay more for this term. Most of these hens spend the balance of their lives outdoors with a good amount of space and access to indoors. They can eat worms and insects along with vegetarian feed. Some producers include amount of square feet per hen. This is a level of transparency I believe in.
This term should not warrant extra dollars from your pocket because it is illegal to give hormones to egg laying hens in the US.
United Egg Producer Certified
Not worth your money or purchasing power. According to the Humane Society. “This voluntary egg industry program permits cruel and inhumane caging and treatment. Hens are confined in barren, wire cages so small the birds can barely move. The guidelines recommend cage space less than the size of a piece of paper—just 67 square inches—for each bird.”
This term means the hens are not in a cage and have access to the outdoors. The extra outdoor space may be a screened-in area on cement or dirt or grass. Even though it may say this, most free-range birds in commercial egg facilities never do go outside. The USDA does not certify this term, so be careful this may not mean your eggs were laid by a hen that ever saw the light of day.
The vegetarian diet contains no animal by-products. Chicken will scavenge in a natural environment eating bugs and vegetarian food. So a vegetarian diet may not actually be best for the hens, but you can know they are not eating other animal by-products. Most hens are fed a vegetarian diet, so I wouldn’t pay more for this.
Many people are starting to raise their own hens and source eggs from their own backyard. Before deciding to do this, check out your local city ordinances to see if your area will allow you to have hens based on city zoning. Even if you don't live in super rural areas, there is often at least 1 or 2 sources of farm fresh, truly pasture raised eggs around.
I also recommend testing other types of eggs: Emu, Goose, Ostrich, Turkey, Quail and DUCK!
Many are quite surprised when they find out that less than 1% of US farmland is certified organic. Yet the market for organics is growing daily (as it should). There is a great amount of adulteration in our food supply from GMOs, large amounts of heavy metals, insane amounts of pesticides, and the health of Americans consequently suffer.
I know that what I am saying is controversial, and people in my own family will not agree that our modern farming techniques and chemicals affect our health negatively. People will say that GMO crops have not been shown to have negative health effects on humans. While some of the health effects of GMOs specifically have on our health is still to be confirmed in the scientific community, there is an interesting New York Times article stating "But an extensive examination by ... indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides." The basic promise of the GMO industry, a more secure supply of food and less need for chemical pesticides has not been delivered even with 20 years of the nations farmers embracing GMO crops.
The NY Times article goes on to explain "An analysis... using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops." If the health effects still require more scientific scrutiny, I would propose we move back to non-GMOs, since we are not gaining any major advantages from crop yields, and we are largely funding a major food superpower Monsanto.
I will leave my very strong feelings towards pesticides out of the post, because I'd like to share about an ad I saw in a magazine last week:
Kashi, a brand of natural and organic cereals, bars and snack foods, whose parent company is Kelloggs, is leading the way in a new certification aimed at lowering the cost of becoming an organic producer. It takes 3 years of farming with organic processes, a lot of money spent on a certification, and increased cost of labor and seed to become certified as an organic farmer. During this period, a farmer can not sell his products as organic. With increased cost without being able to compensate with increased profits, the road is often too difficult and too expensive for a farmer to chance. This new cereal ad above is highlighting a farmer in the midst of this transition process, and is using wheat from a field that is transitioning to organic. The idea is that a farmer can now get this new certification, which is less expensive than the organic certification, and may sell to companies willing to pay a price somewhere in between conventionally grown wheat and organically grown wheat. This cereal is advertised by Kashi to be priced and sold to consumers at a pricepoint somewhere in between a conventional wheat product and an organic product.
Kashi has partnered with QAI and Hesco to create this new logo and certification. What did impress me when I read about this idea on Kashi's website, is that the certification is open to anyone, and in fact Kashi sent information to competitors to promote this new movement and additional supply of safer food in America. This is not the first attempt by a major brand to promote a product "not quite" organic. Whole foods started labeling some products as "Responsibly Grown" for nonorganic farmers who follow certain practices established by the grocery giant. The idea and point is that farmers will not stay transitional, they will become organic, growing our organic food supply and paving the way for additional farmers to begin the process of becoming organic, with a larger market for the "in between" produce.
I recommend getting involved in your local farmers markets, get to know your produce growers, stop at local farm stands. There may be many farmers out there in this process that will not take part in a certification, but still are providing safer food to eat. I promise you will get an education from these farmers, and if they are not yet organic, your voice is heard each time you ask about their farming practices, and if you walk away from a sale, they feel it.
If your food budget is stretched and you don't know where it is most important to focus your organic food dollars, check out this blog post where I review this information.
Where do you spend your food budget on more expensive products? Produce, dairy, meat? What local stores do you source your food. I'd love to hear, comment below or add a comment to my facebook page.
In great health!
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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