Unless you are vegan or have a particular disdain for eggs, you probably consume eggs. Most of us do. Most of us also buy our eggs in a grocery store. If so, you are probably well aware that a vast selection of different types of eggs are available, ranging from Grade A, Grade AA, Certified Humane, Cage Free, Organic etc. The options can be confusing (and misleading!) to say the least. So what do all of these labels exactly mean, you ask? Let's take a look at the most common ones:
"Cage Free" (also called "Range Free" or "Free Roaming") labels are not regulated by the USDA. They rely solely on "third party" verification. You would naturally assume these terms denote having hens roam about outdoors, foraging in the grass. Nope. In actuality, cage free does not denote outdoor access at all. Cage free simply means the hens are permitted to wander about on concrete in large warehouses artificially lit 24/7. "Range Free" hens are supposed to be granted outdoor access. However, this does not require they do so on pasture. Range free hens spend most of their time in stacked cages, and are given some outdoor access usually on hard dirt pens or concrete.
"Certified Organic" requires USDA certification, which is a plus. However, certified organic permits debeaking and forced molting via starvation in order to maximize egg production. No use of antibiotics or cages is permitted and farmers must maintain living conditions that are accommodating to the health and behavior of the hens, which implies outdoor access. However, there is no standard on how much or the quality of the outdoor access. Usually, this entails having a small door leading to an outdoor concrete courtyard.
Certified Humane is probably the most ironic of the bunch. The reason being is that debeaking and forced molting via starvation is permitted! The claim that makes this practice Certified Humane is that hens are not caged and have access to perches and nest boxes.
So what about all this talk about Grade A and Grade AA?
Well, Grade AA is supposed to be the highest quality of eggs as rated in the USDA's "voluntary" cosmetic grading system. However, if you look on a carton of eggs, you will often see that the "lower quality" eggs have higher Omega 3 fatty acid concentrations than Grade AA. This is important to note, because the healthiest benefit of eating eggs are from the Omega 3's, which studies suggest help to mitigate Type II diabetes and heart disease, as well as strengthen the body's immune system. This is also important to note because the most healthiest and best tasting eggs are none other than those that come from pasture hens.
In a study conducted by a poultry farmer with a grant from the USDA' Department of Sustainable Agriculture and Research, pastured eggs, as they are called, were found to contain 10% less fat, 34% less cholesterol, 40% more Vitamin A and 400% more Omega 3 fatty acids than commercially produced eggs. The same was true for pastured chicken meat. So, considering the nutritional shortcomings and the pseudo-humane practices of commercial egg farmers, the best option you have is to buy locally.
If you ever have the chance to look at a pastured egg in comparison to a supermarket egg, you will notice a vibrant difference in the color of the yolks, which should actually have a deeper orange color than the bright yellow yolks we are accustomed to seeing. To find out where you can purchase locally harvested pasture eggs, visit www.localharvest.org or www.eatwellguide.org to locate eggs based on your zip
Author: Ryan the Hawaiian Lion