Unscrambling egg labels

- When did shopping for eggs get so complicated?  Brown, white, organic, cage-free - what's the difference? Well, price. But let's decide what's worth paying for.

We all probably have something we're looking for in our eggs. For me personally, I don't know why, but I find extra omega-3 eggs appealing.  I'm not even sure why I want that anymore. But, here's what I've learned: Eggs with extra good fat get that way - not because they're a different chicken - but from eating feed that has fish or flaxseed in it.

But let's keep strolling down the aisle. There's pasture-raised, hormone-free, even vegetarian fed.  Some of these terms mean something and some don't.  First let's toss out those that don't mean a thing - hormone-free, anti-biotic free and grass fed.  

By federal law, growth hormones can't be given to chickens. The agriculture industry says that chickens are bigger due to breeding, vet care and living conditions. Added hormones have been outlawed since the 50s.  Antibiotics are used in chickens raised for meat, but it's not general practice for egg-laying hens.

Grass-fed. Well, they might nibble on grass if they're outdoors, but that's not really what their diet consists of if left to fend for themselves. They like bugs and seeds, not grass.  Again, agriculture experts don't recommend paying more for these distinctions on the label.

OK, let's look at things that are real. Organic means the farm has been certified organic. The hens have to have some access to outdoors and they have to eat organic feed.

Cage-free & free-range. In either case the birds don't live in cages but roam freely. If the eggs are labeled free-range there has to be access to the outdoors. It doesn't mean they go outdoors, but they have to have access. And pasture-raised. There is no legal definition for this, but it is assumed they spend most of their time outdoors.

Brown eggs or white eggs? Doesn't matter. They're the same. You can alternate buying them so you know which ones are the freshest.

And lastly, vegetarian-fed hens are a hot label these days. It means their feed has no animal products in their diets. But chickens are meat eaters. I'm using my dad as a source here. He was a chicken farmer. And he would tell you that if chickens are deprived of protein, they will look for it. Which means, and I've seen it, they attack each other. Farmers can add a synthetic form of protein to their diets to prevent this. But, the reason folks to turn vegetarian-fed chickens is because of the use of animal by products in feed which is less of a problem now than it used to be.

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