Walk into any egg section of any supermarket, you are bound to be bombarded with dozens of varieties, with multiple labels and certification seals. Do you merely walk over, pick up a dozen, and just get on with your shopping? Or do stand in front of the coolers studiously reading the labels wondering what each one means? If so, you are not alone.
Here then is a guide to cage free, free range, and basic old eggs.
Grocery store brand eggs
start with the basic, grocery-store-brand eggs. Today, they were listed
for $1.69 a dozen at Publix. The only certification listed on the
package was that of the United Egg Producers. According to its website,
"UEP Certified eggs are your assurance that those eggs originate from
farms dedicated to following responsible, science-based farming methods
designed to ensure optimal hen welfare. Hens under UEP Certified program
are never fed hormones and are independently audited for 100%
doesn't actually mean much. Poultry are never fed hormones to begin
with, and unless otherwise stated, laying hens are housed in cages. Each
hen is likely allocated 67 square inches for its entire life span.
That's less space than a sheet of paper. It sounds as though UEP's
definition of "optimal welfare" is rather subjective.
free" is the next step up. Eggland's Best cage free were going for
$3.91 a dozen. The other option was 4 Grain Cage Free for $3.39. This
carton stated, "4 Grain cage free eggs are produced by hens who perch,
scratch, and nest in an all-natural environment and are fed only the
purest all-natural grain feed." This description fits the gist of
cage-free eggs, although there is no third party auditing. The
all-natural environment is generally an enclosed barn, but at least the
hens have some room to move around. You'd hope so for paying more that
twice the price of conventional eggs.
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Greenwise Organic eggs
also Publix Greenwise Organic eggs for $4.09 a dozen. This package
proclaimed: "100% organic produced by hens who are fed a wholesome diet,
with no hormones or antibiotics added." The USDA organic and Quality
Certification Services seals were stamped on the box. These
certifications indicate that the hens are fed organic grain, are not
caged, are not fed antibiotics, and are allowed access to the outdoors
and sunlight. The amount of outdoor access isn't clear, but organic eggs
are audited by a third-party.
most expensive were the Country Hen cage-free eggs. For $2.99 a half
dozen, the hens enjoy "sunlit barns and porches." How bucolic, right?
While these eggs certainly sound the most humane out of the bunch, are
they really worth the price? That depends on how much value you put on
the quality of life for the hens producing your egg -- and whether
you're willing to pay three times the price for bucolic farming.