I was duped. As someone who has studied marketing, I should know better, and I’m ashamed. Egg producers played on my lack of knowledge, and I walked right into it. My husband watched a show on public television about egg marketing recently and was able to make fun of me, and nothing burns me up more than ignorance about my food – and being made fun of. I’ve been paying more for vegetarian fed, cage-free, natural, and sometimes certified organic eggs. I thought all of these things would mean I was getting a better egg. But in reality, these chickens are being raised in warehouses, being fed a vegetarian diet when their natural inclination is to go out and forage. There is nothing natural about any of these labels. So, I decided to do my homework and checked out the Humane Society website, to get the facts.
- Vegetarian fed: This one is confusing, because it seems like what you would prefer, but chickens eat bugs, worms, snakes and mice, and lots of other delicious stuff they find outside – they love to forage. If they are only vegetarian fed, then they are raised in a warehouse and have no access to the outdoors.
- Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing. (Humane Society website)
- Natural: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare. (Humane Society website)
Here is something else that is pretty horrible about commercially sold eggs: “Virtually all hens in commercial egg operations—whether cage or cage-free—come from hatcheries that kill all male chicks shortly after hatching. The males are of no use to the egg industry because they don’t lay eggs and aren’t bred to grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry. Common methods of killing male chicks include suffocation, gassing and grinding. Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed at hatcheries each year in the United States.” (Humane Society website)
My new plan is to get our eggs straight from a local farmer, that is the only way to ensure the eggs are the best tasting, and the best for you since chickens in their natural habitat lay more nutrient dense eggs. Here is a label I found on the Humane society website that sounds promising (if you can’t find a local farmer to support):
- Animal Welfare Approved: The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is prohibited. Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the Animal Welfare Institute. (Humane Society website)