There are so many confusing terms out there for eggs. Free run, free range, cage free… what does it all mean? Maybe these ethical egg terms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be…
I was recently called upon by CBC Marketplace, an incredible investigative journalism show, requesting that I decode the results of a nutrition analysis they had done on different types of eggs. This wasn’t about looking at omega-3 eggs (they had already done an episode on that).
The question was, are ethical eggs worth the extra cost? This was about nutrition and also understanding some of the ethics behind how hens are raised. I also participated in a blinded taste test, along with several other egg-perts (love my egg puns).
(Screenshot from the Marketplace episode, “Egg Crackdown: Are Ethical Eggs Actually Better?”)
Which eggs are best for nutrition, ethics and taste?
Not everyone on the taste panel agreed on the yummiest eggs, but I had a clear winner across the board. And yes, I was completely blinded to which egg was which in my nutrition analysis and in the taste test. I was shocked to find I had such a strong preference in each case, and that my favourite was the very same egg in each category! You can read more about the egg findings (and see some quotes from me) in this CBC article “Some organic, free-range eggs more nutritious, Marketplace investigation finds“.
The organic eggs from Organic Meadow were the clear front-runner nutrition-wise and I was so happy to see the hens are treated well. In the Marketplace episode when the Organic Meadow farmer learns that his eggs are the most nutritious, it literally brings tears to his eyes. I almost cried with him. I want my food to be raised with love! Don’t you?
If you missed this amazing Marketplace episode, “Egg Crackdown: Are Ethical Eggs Actually Better?” you need to watch it here. It will change the way you look at egg production and your own grocery cart.
Here is what my analysis of the nutrition results for the eggs revealed:
The organic eggs (Organic Meadow) were the most nutritious, with other cage-free brands falling somewhere in between the conventional and organic brands in terms of nutrition.
The organic eggs had more than double the amount of vitamin D, up to 5 times the amount of vitamin E and 32% more vitamin A than the conventional eggs.
Enriched Housing: These are cages with perches that are larger than the battery cages currently used by most conventional farms. Small battery cages and cramped living conditions for chickens has been compared to 4 people living in an elevator. Fortunately, it was recently announced that enriched housing will become the norm in Canada by 2036. Based on some of the images from the Marketplace episode, the chickens still looked rather crowded.
Cage-Free: These hens are kept indoors but have space to move around inside barns. There is no certification for this term, meaning producers often go by the “honor system”. The hens may be given antibiotics and other regulated additives in their feed.
Free-Run: These hens are kept indoors but have space to move around inside barns. Conditions may still be crowded. There is no certification for this term, meaning producers often go by the “honor system”. The hens may be given antibiotics and other regulated additives in their feed.
Free-Range: These hens may spend some time outside, depending on the weather. There is no specified amount of time required for a producer to claim their hens lay free-range eggs. There is also no certification for this term, meaning producers often go by the “honor system”. The hens may be given antibiotics and other regulated additives in their feed.
Organic: To be labelled “organic”, eggs need to come from certified farms that are inspected to make sure they meet animal welfare standards. The hens are also antibiotic-free and raised on organic feed. These hens spend plenty of time outside and enjoy pecking at grass and insects and basking in the sunshine.
Of course, price is a major factor influencing egg purchases. Organic eggs are double the price of conventional ones.
What kind of eggs do you buy and why? Leave a comment below!