Here’s a basic rundown of terms you may see when shopping for eggs.
- Cage-free: Hens live without cages in indoor facilities and do not necessarily have access to the outdoors. The amount of space per hen varies by producer.
- Fertile: These eggs come from hens that live with roosters. Most are cage free.
- Free-range (free-roaming): The term simply means the hens “have been allowed access to the outside,” but for an undetermined period of time. These hens may be, but generally are not, raised outdoors. From a sustainability perspective, indoor free range egg facilities are a far cry from pasture-based operations, but the eggs have been shown to be safer for consumers than eggs from caged hens. In fact, 16 different studies have shown that eggs from caged chickens are much more likely to be carriers of salmonella.
- Hormone-free: The use of hormones in laying hens was banned in the 1960s.
- Organic: Hens are given only certified organic vegetarian feed without pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers or antibiotics. Hens have access to the outdoors. Organic chicken operations must be certified by designated agencies.
- Pastured: Hens are raised outdoors on pasture, usually using movable enclosures (hens also have access to a coop for shelter and egg laying). This enables hens to eat a variety of natural foods, such as different grasses, seeds and insects. Some scientific evidence indicates that, because of this diet, eggs from pasture-raised hens have less cholesterol and fat, higher omega-3 fatty acids, and higher amounts of lutein, beta-carotene, and vitamins A & E. The term “pasture-raised” is not regulated; in other words, it is up to the producer to provide eaters with a certain level of transparency around their operation and up to the eater to ask questions.
- Vegetarian: Eggs are produced by hens whose feed is free of animal by-products.