It has become increasingly challenging to ultimately determine what to look for when reading egg carton labels in our quest to find the healthiest eggs. Terms like “organic”, “free-range”, “cage-free”, “pastured”, and “pasture-raised” are constantly being bandied about. Unfortunately, many of our conventional local grocery stores carry eggs that come from large-scale egg farms that are definitely not the best choice. This is because the hens are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), where conditions are crowded and unsanitary, to say the least. Another hard fact to swallow is that the majority of egg labels have little relevance to animal welfare or, if they do, they have no official standards or any way to enforce them. While this all sounds pretty bleak, it is possible to find high-quality eggs from hens that are humanely raised, and here’s how to identify them.
Pasture-raised means the eggs are not only nutritious, but contamination risk is minimal. These hens are typically raised on smaller organic farms in a clean environment. They are exposed to sunlight, able to roam freely outdoors on a pasture and forage for their natural food, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
Certified organic eggs are guaranteed to be antibiotic and pesticide-free. Now, you may have some local farmers that actually meet the same criteria, but are unable to afford this specific designation. Try asking your local health food stores because they usually are aware of such farms in the area.
In the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, “Vital Farms” (organic eggs) is a brand of eggs that are available at stores like Whole Foods and fit the criteria discussed. Otherwise, you can check out the following websites to locate pasture farms in your area:
USDA’s farmer’s market listing
You can also check out The Cornucopia Institute at http://www.cornucopia.org/. They provide a list with ratings/explanations for many of the nationally sold brands of eggs (http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/).