I grew up eating eggs for breakfast on a regular basis. Not because they were suppose to be good for me and packed with nutrients and vitamins we needed but because they were dog on good. Even when the news was filled with claims that eggs have cholesterol and we should only eat the egg whites or they will cause you to have a heart attack. Now we know there are good and bad cholesterol and it is of vital importance to our bodies but we’ll get into that in another blog one day.
So when it comes to selecting eggs today there are many choices and clever branding to make us feel good about the eggs we’re buying. By in far the bulk of eggs sold in grocery stores are eggs from hens in confinement cages who spend their life in a cage laying eggs on a conveyer belt not seeing the sun or grass at all. Now I understand the logic behind this method but being around chickens daily for the last 8 years I know they love to run and scratch in the grass and chase down unsuspecting bugs. But as far as production and cost it is more efficient to run feed and water to a chicken in a cage for a few months then butcher her and put in another one than to raise them on grass. And we as consumers are more willing to buy the cheapest food available no matter the process of getting it to us are fueling these processes. And by no means am I against us as consumers having any less of a choice in buying our food or for the producers who produce confinement raised food. My motives here are to explain where, how and under what conditions our food is produced then its up to each of us as consumers to select the products we feel is best for our families.
So what’s the difference in the eggs? Like I’ve said the bulk of eggs are “confinement” produced. These birds are fed gmo grain with antibiotics and hormonal additives at times to help produce top egg production. Then we have “cage free” eggs. This is pretty self-explanatory but birds are free to walk the house and lay in nest. These birds are most often fed similar diet as caged hens which includes antibiotics to keep them alive, mainly from respiratory infections. After that we have “free range” eggs. This sounds like a huge improvement over being cooped up in a house all day but actually free ranged means birds have access to an outdoor concrete and maybe some grass pen at certain times. I’ve seen a lot of different variations of this method, some taking to the extreme on both ends. A nice stretch of grass to a small stretch of concrete. The term doesn’t require a certain type of “range” only that they have access to one and normally the grower is told when they get to use it. Also they most often are fed the same commercial feed diets already mentioned but some may state that certain additives or antibiotics are not used. And of course there is “organic” eggs. These could be cage free, free range or on pasture. And most cartons may label what type of living conditions chickens have. Sixty years ago organic was the only choice of raising a chicken which was natural grain and on grass. But now the government has got involved and determined what is “organic”. As stated by USDA organic chickens are fed gmo free diets that are certified organic, no hormones and only use antibiotics if absolutely necessary for the health of the animal. And hens have to be free to roam in a house or outside which ever you prefer. The animal has to have enough room to lay down and stand up. But my biggest complaint on the term “organic” is that small farms like me or large farms or even corporate farms have to comply with government guidelines and pay a yearly fee to call our product “organic”. This has been a windfall for a lot of big companies who got certified organic but chickens are still confined with little space or outdoors. And most consumers see the word organic and assume it is much better. In some cases it is but for most it’s just a label we’re buying. For someone like me a small farm the certification fee is anywhere from $700-$1000 and then a yearly renewal fee. So it makes sense when we buy organic it cost more, not only because is cost more to produce a somewhat better product but also to assure that Uncle Sam isn’t getting left out. To me this is a punishment for the little guy who goes well beyond the organic practices the government has set but can’t mention the word “organic” without paying the government money.
That being said, the last kind of egg is “pastured”. This is what we have, chickens on a rotating pasture. These hens spend the day on grass scratching and pecking for insects, worms or seed. With a mobile coop and electric fencing these birds move around the pasture tilling and fertilizing on the way. Fed a diet of non gmo corn, soybean meal and minerals they produce an egg that is distinctly recognizable from any other egg mentioned earlier. A deep orange yolk packed with everything you expect in an egg plus more taste and body. Pastured eggs have more nutrition than conventional eggs as test shown below.
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol • 1⁄4 less saturated fat • 2⁄3 more vitamin A • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids • 3 times more vitamin E • 7 times more beta carotene
Ok that’s my spill on the egg. Take a minute and put a pastured egg and a conventional egg side by side in the frying pan and see how much differences there really are. I’m just glad we still have a choice and wide selection to choose what we want. But we as consumers need to continue to educate ourselves on the food choices we have and the food we buy.