Cracking the Code: 3 Egg Labels to Brush Up On
Advocacy The average American eats 250 eggs a year. But breakfast has never been so complicated. That’s because egg cartons are tough to understand.
Conventionally produced eggs come from caged hens. “Each hen gets 7 by 10 inches of space and there are up to nine hens per cage—and they’re that way for life,” says Robert Raible, vice president of marketing for Egg Innovations, an egg company that produces free range and pasture raised eggs under the name Blue Sky Family Farms.
The conventional egg industry is changing with the rise of specialty eggs, including cage-free, free range and pasture raised eggs. Changes are aimed to give hens more space, which is more ethical than traditional egg production.
“There’s definitely a lot of publicity and buzz around specialty eggs lately,” says Brandy Gamoning, marketing manager at egg producer NestFresh Eggs. Gamoning explains that consumers feel good about spending a little more for specialty eggs.
Despite the term, cage-free hens are still in cages but with a little more room than conventional hens. Says Raible, “Cage-free hens are raised in barns and don’t go outside.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports 12.2 million hens are cage-free, which is 4.5 percent of the egg industry. The demand is increasing though, especially since more consumers, restaurants and retailers are going cage-free. “Cage-free is slowly becoming the norm,” says Gamoning.
2. Free range
Free range eggs come from hens that live in barns but have two square feet of outside space per bird.
3. Pasture raised
Pasture-raised hens also live in barns but have access to 108 square feet per bird. The United Egg Producers (UEP), a cooperative of U.S. egg farmers working to address legislative, regulatory and advocacy issues impacting the egg industry, say both free range and pasture raised farms are not required to use third-party audits.
The extra space matters, says Raible: “We find the happier we make the hens, the more productive they are. They’re happy to go outside.”