egg carton

Egg cartons used to be so simple – an off-white carton printed with the egg size (mom always bought Extra Large) and possibly a farm name. Today walking past the egg section in the dairy case is quite a different picture – new fangled plastic containers with brightly colored imagery packed with claims and commentary fill most of the shelves. While the updated packaging is nice to look at, all of the jargon and phrases on this packaging is down right confusing. What does it all mean?

In the past few years, the egg industry has come under consumer scrutiny. Most eggs come from hens that are raised in crowded, caged habitats which many people consider inhumane. In addition, more and more consumers are learning that the quality of feed a hen eats has a direct relationship to the nutritional value of the egg it lays. These two concerns have led egg prodcuers to adding many labels and phrases on their cartons of eggs. These labels refer to two primary subjects:

  1. The humane treatment of the hens
  2. The type of feed that hens are fed

An Organic label on eggs is the only statement that refers to both subjects:

  • Treatment: Access to outside, walk around inside barns
  • Feed: organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides
  • Certification/Audit: USDA Certified Organic Program

Labels related to treatment of the hens:

Certified Humane: Walk around inside barns with certification by Humane Farm Animal Care Certification

Cage-free: Walk around inside barns. No outside certification or audit system.

Free-Range or Free-Roaming: Walk around inside barns and access to outside.No outside certification or audit system.

Labels related to the type of feed that hens are fed:

Omega-3 Enriched: High Omega-3 ingredients, such as flaxseed, in the hen feed.

Vegetarian-Fed: Feed that is free of animal products which reflects a more natural diet for a hen.

One final note – Don’t be fooled – the claim natural simply means not artificial. It implies nothing about the hen treatment or feed – or the quality of the egg inside the carton.

Now you know the facts, we hope you will enjoy your eggs in a different way.