Farm Fresh, Free Range, Cage Free, Organic… What’s the difference?

1 Apr

So you’re trying to eat paleo or healthy and that includes eggs, but what’s up with all the different types of eggs you can get?! Farm fresh? That sounds delicious… cage free? What’s the difference between that and free range?  What about organic eggs? Are those fresh from the farm like “farm fresh” eggs sound like they are?

Well, here are your questions answered, mystery solved!

Farm Fresh Eggs

Doesn’t that sound appetizing?  Eggs… fresh from the farm?  Well, it would be if it was true, unfortunately, unless you are literally buying the eggs from a farm or a local super market that actually sells genuine eggs from a farm, the label “farm fresh” means nothing other than it is just eggs… picked from chickens in battery cages.

According to the Humane Society, “On average, each caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space—less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live her entire life.”  There’s a whole bunch of concerns about these chickens if you are in to animal welfare, but for me, to be totally honest, I just prefer my eggs to come from healthy chickens.

Battery Caged Chickens

Battery Caged Chickens

 

Cage Free Eggs

Now, that sounds better.  Chickens that don’t spend their entire lives in battery cages!  But, what does “cage free” really mean?  Well, to start with, yes they are in a slightly better condition than “farm fresh eggs”.  They literally are not confined in cages.

Before you get an imagery of a bunch of happy chickens taking a brisk walk outside in the sun and laying happy eggs whenever they please, realize that cage free only means cage free.  Unless the packaging states that it is “free range” also, the eggs are most likely laid by chickens that don’t see the light of day as they spend their lives cramped up in hen houses, often in cramped conditions.

Cage Free Chickens

Cage Free Chickens

 

Free Range Eggs

I used to think that all “cage free” eggs are from chickens that are free to walk around in the wild, but actually that is what “Free Range” means… and in reality, “Free Range” means different things in different countries.

In the U.S., if the packaging says the eggs come from “free range” chickens, it means that the bird gets to spend part of its time outside.  (This is what’s required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)  Now, I’m not really sure how much this actually means, but it’s nice to think that the chickens get to see sun light at least from time to time instead of cramped up in a hen house all day.

Free Range Chickens

Free Range Chickens

 

Organic Eggs

Now, we are getting to business.  This is my favorite type of eggs, as all the other eggs I’ve listed actually has no restriction on what is fed to the chickens unless otherwise stated.  If the packaging says “organic” in the U.S., it means that the chickens were fed an organic diet – no antibiotics (unless the chickens were sick), and the chickens must live in a cage free and free range environment.  Isn’t that awesome?  They don’t pump antibiotics in to these chickens unless they have to!

Another thing to consider is that with all the other chickens I’ve previously mentioned, forced molting (where egg producers starve the chickens for some time to force chicken’s natural replacement of old feathers by new ones) is allowed.  However, with organic eggs, only natural molting can occur.

Organic Eggs laid by Free Range Chicken

Organic Eggs laid by Free Range Chicken

The Best Eggs?

Though the organic eggs are the best out of those listed above, they’re still not great as pastured eggs.  Pastured eggs are from chickens that are raised in a pasture and have access to coops to sleep at night.  Typically, these chickens get to spend most of their times outside and eat bugs like chickens are meant to.   Unfortunately, pastured eggs are harder to find in your typical supermarket/grocery store, but if you have access to pastured eggs from local farmers, be sure to get on that!

So that’s all I have to say about eggs.  My personal favorite is organic eggs, but obviously every one has their own preference on animal welfare, idea on what is healthier, and preference on price!

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9 Responses to “Farm Fresh, Free Range, Cage Free, Organic… What’s the difference?”

  1. Urban Paleo Chef May 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    I have some additional flavor to add here…
    “Free Range”: The first USDA allows the farmers to confine the chickens for the first 6 weeks of their lives. In practice, what that means is that even “Free Range” chickens do not actually spend any time outdoors, because most of them have been behaviorally trained to stay indoors by the time any outdoor access is provided/permitted.
    “Organic”: Yes, this is getting better, but it’s still a LONG way from healthy. First: the “Organic” label does not require “Free Range,” and they are very rarely combined. And when they are combined, it will say so on the package. Also: a chicken can be fed organic soy and organic corn, and still produce “organic” eggs. While I think this is a mild improvement over conventionally grown soy/corn feed for chickens, it still does not produce healthy animals. A natural diet for chickens is mostly bugs, grubs, worms, and other ground-based animals. A chicken which is fed an all-vegetarian diet is actually more susceptible to diet-related diseases than a human! Feeding all-vegetable feed to chickens is similar to attempting to feed a cat or dog an all-vegetarian diet.

    For some great egg resources, take a look at the following couple of pages:
    http://www.localharvest.org/pastured-eggs.jsp
    http://www.naturesyoke.com/pastured-eggs.html

    My guess is that the above are something more in line with what you thought you were looking for when you settled on “Organic” as being the healthiest option. Most of the best chicken/eggs you can buy these days come with the label “pastured”. Just like the best beef and pork products!
    I hope that helps!

    • Tina May 1, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      That’s very sad about the “free range” chickens’ first 6 weeks :( As for eggs that are certified “Organic”, through my research, USDA does require that the birds be cage-free and they are also required to have outdoor access, (but there’s no requirement on amount, duration, and such, so it’s almost pointless) which is what I meant when I mentioned that they are also “free range”.

      Either way… like you mentioned, neither are as great as pastured eggs, but unfortunately those are harder to find in your typical supermarket/grocery store, and I was just trying to clear up what all those USDA labels on the egg cartons really mean. At some point I should add pastured eggs some where though, to clear that up (probably before my next new post on monday)! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. G . Grant January 19, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    I have become sensitive to eggs,,, well, eggs bought at the supermarket, that is. I don’t have ready access to other kinds,, but I did find out that a person in my area had a limited number of eggs for sale,from his hens , on small residential property, so I bought some , and lo and behold, I was able to eat them with very little difficulty, so I know it has to be what the chickens are eating.. The store bought eggs give me really bad stomach pain.

  3. Rick W July 24, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    Are eggs healthy for us? I heard the usda took them off the healthy list.

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