Ethical Eating

Supermarket Eggs: Organic, Cage Free, Free Range, and Whatever All That Means

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%


Sounds great, although that

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.

Eggland's Best cage-free eggs

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.

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.

Country Hen cage-free eggs

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. 

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Sara Ventiera