Eggs - what do all of the terms mean?
When it comes to eggs and the way animals are raised, how can we tell what each term means and what good comes from each?
Well, in simple terms, happy chickens lay happy eggs. The less stress an animal has, the healthier they and their offspring or products will be. The living conditions of animals grown in industrial ways can be horrible.
Even if there is a picture of a farm with pasture and grass on the packaging, that may not reference how an animal was actually raised. Like all of our purchases, we vote by buying and direct business to follow the money to what is being purchased.
So, here are some of the words you may see when looking at eggs.
Free run, free range, organic, cage free, pasture raised and so on. These all sound good.
However, these do not all imply that those chickens have a happy and stress free nor illness free life.
About 90% of eggs sold in Canada are from hens raised in battery cages. This means six to eight hens are crammed into a cage and have the space of an iPad each, to exist with their room mates. Then these cages are stacked to take up less room. These battery cages have been banned in Europe. and some US states. These are the least expensive eggs that you can buy.
So, that is the cage versus cage free part. However, this is more to a hen’s wellbeing than just the cage, but that is a really big part of it.
Here is the list of different types of eggs, in order of most supportive of hens health to least.
Pastured eggs are labeled to say something like “hens on pasture,” “pasture chicken eggs,” or “eggs from hens on green grass.” These eggs are often also organic, but look for the organic stamp of certification to be sure. These hens also eat grasses and bugs when the weather allows to them to go outside, and are mostly from smaller farms, with flocks between 500 and 1,000 birds. These are generally the most expensive on the shelf.
Organic eggs have to be from certified organic farms where the hens eat organic feed and have substantial access to the outdoors. They are meant to support their natural behaviours like nests, and dust bath areas, and room to walk and eat bugs. These natural behaviour do not happen in the battery cages. Be default organic also includes “Free Range” due to the ability to access space outside. Organic eggs make up about 2% of the eggs in Canada. Looks for the organic certification stamp on the carton.
Free Range eggs do not mean organic, but organic does mean that the eggs are free-range. Free range just means that the hens have access to space, via a door in their barn, but it does not include restricting what the hens eat. Thousands of birds can be housed in a large barn. It does not ensure that they access the outdoors, they have the choice, but does not mean they go outside.
Free run/cage free eggs are from hens that do not live in cages, they live in a large barn but they do not have access to the outdoors. Some large scale egg farms hours 20,000 birds in a barn with boxes to lay eggs. Aviary systems are barns with tiers so farmers can fit more birds into them.
The rest are “conventional” or regular eggs. Those are mostly what you will find in many restaurants unless they specify that they use cage free or organic types of eggs.
How can you tell the difference? Well, with your eyes, the bright orange yolk is a sure sign. But also how hard and strong the shell is indicates health of the hen and thus the egg.
Happy hens make for happy eggs.
Enjoy your week!