S and I made our inaugural trip to the new Sprouts last weekend for some same-quality-as-Whole-Foods-but-cheaper (or so rumor says) produce, eggs, and milk. Produce – check. Organic non-fat milk – check. Eggs – Now I’m confused. Cage free? Free range? Natural? Organic? Which is from a happier chicken?
I comment to Sam that I’ve heard free range is the most humane, while simultaneously envisioning fluffy white chickens happily parading around a lush green field, tiny yellow cheeping chicks in tow. Free range eggs – check. “I should write a blog explaining the difference,” I say to S. After a little more research, it is clear that I had no idea what I was talking about.
Clearly regular white eggs are out, as we have all seen Napoleon Dynamite (do they have large talons?) and have read endless articles on battery cages.
Free range vs. Cage free? Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. Cage free hens are just that: cage free. This does not mean access to the outdoors. However, both free range and cage free still involve inhumane practices (I’ll spare you the gory details. More info here.).
Certified humane eggs are better (I even found these at Walmart), as the chickens must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing for the cartons to earn this title. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. One certain inhumane practice is still allowed, although this practice is better than the alternative (more info here – warning! A little graphic).
Organic, United Egg Producers Certified, Vegetarian-Fed, Natural, Fertile, and Omega-3 Enriched have no relevance to animal welfare.
Pastured eggs are really the only eggs that come from happy chickens. These chickens are allowed to roam about grassy pens free from inhumane practices. Happy chicken farming is also ecologically sustainable and produces tasty, more nutritious eggs. Local shops where you and I can feel good about purchasing happy chicken eggs:
Whole Foods – Coyote Creek Farms has certified organic pastured eggs and is the first commercial organic feed mill in the State of Texas.
Sunset Valley Farmers Market – A favorite Saturday morning event for S and I, we found pastured eggs as cheap as $1 a dozen!
Or if you want to have your own happy chickens (Reason #761 I desperately want a backyard), a fox-proof (raccoon-proof) Eglu Cube would be just the ticket.
A dear friend of mine consumes only happy meat, including chickens and cows. This research has certainly given me some food for thought (pun intended) for future grocery and restaurant animal purchases…
Happy egg hunting!