Pastured Eggs, Cage Free Eggs, Free Range what’s the difference?
What eggs are best for you and your health?
If you are a heath conscious individual there is not doubt you’ve encountered ubiquitous titles with eggs such as “free-range,” “pastured,” and “cage-free.” They all sound similar but unfortunately can have underlying deception written in their names as a result of clever marketing and lackluster regulation. Moreover, earning the “certified organic” title is a long, tedious process that quite frankly many small farmers cannot afford to go through. But have no fear loyal blog readers, Grubbable is here to set the bar straight on what those elusive titles really mean and what are the best products to buy.
Pastured eggs are the poultry equivalent to grass fed beef—they are the cream of the crop! Pastured eggs come from hens that are exclusively raised on the pasture, free from confinement. They roam the land, soak up the sun and munch on the bugs and foliage they see. (Insects might not sound as delicious as corn or soy to humans but trust us it’s the most healthy option for them!) These eggs have up to 20 times more omega3 fatty acids than traditional factory farmed eggs. Pastured eggs most distinctively have a bright orange yolk (because of increased beta-carotine), not a pale yellow hue as found in most grocery store brands. The higher quality nutrients are then passed onto you!
According to the USDA in order to earn the title of having free-range eggs the hen must spend part of her time outside…that’s it. It doesn’t elaborate to say 50%, 80%, 10% or even 5 minutes of the day outside. Furthermore, the USDA does not mandate that these free-range hens be given a pastured diet! It’s easy to see how this very deceptive wording and lack of concrete explanation can confuse consumers. However, not all free-range eggs are raised primarily in confinement. Many farmer’s who sell free-range eggs once again, have neither the funds nor resources to go through the organic certification process. That is why it is important to speak directly with the farmer selling you eggs (if possible) to understand what the conditions are like exactly.
Cage-free eggs are perhaps the most misleading type of eggs on our list—but before we explain why—it’s important to give a brief history on the whole cage fiasco to fully understand the pitfalls of the commercialized egg industry.
The History of Battery Cages
Battery cages have become synonymous for hens laying eggs in the US for decades. They are SO small—about 67 inches—less than a standard sheet of paper and the hens live their entire lives like that. Most never even go out, learn how to flap their wings or build a nest like their DNA is programmed to do.
Cage-free eggs are a step above this inhumane abuse but do not necessarily mean they are cruelty free. Most, but of course not all, cage-free eggs come from hens that are still extremely confined. They may not be in cages per-say, but rather with tens of thousands of other hens in a system. Many are still fed grain and soy based diets, growth hormones and antibiotics. Cage free is definitely better than solitary confinement but more needs to be done! Pastured eggs from reputable farmers who use sustainable and cruelty free practices and hands down the BEST way to go.