Eggs are back in, and with new scientific data showing that eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, and if you are interested in adding eggs back into your diet, or if you already eat eggs but want to learn more about the marketing terms egg companies use, you’re in the right place.
When you pick up a carton of eggs at the supermarket nowadays, a variety of marketing terms and gimmicks are prominently displayed across each carton, so it is helpful to understand the good from the bad, in the process enabling you to eat healthier, more cost-effective, and more humanely raised eggs and egg products. Below are explanations of the marketing terms you are likely to encounter.
Common Egg Marketing Terms and Tactics
In the United States, no egg laying hens are given hormones, so even egg cartons that do not have the marketing term “Hormone Free” are in fact hormone free. You should never buy eggs which are more expensive solely because of this true, yet misleading, marketing term.
In some countries, the term “All Natural” is defined and enforced, but not so in the United States, where it has no virtually no meaning. As regulated by the USDA, foods labeled “Natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. All natural does not ensure that the hens are raised on nutritionally poor feed, just feed that hasn’t been artificially produced. “All Natural” is a marketing gimmick and you should not base your purchases off of this marketing term.
Antibiotic-free claims on egg cartons can be only be made by egg producers who choose not to use any antibiotics in the feed or water during the growing period of pullets (young hens) or while hens are laying eggs. It is not common for egg laying hens to receive antibiotics because of the effectiveness of current vaccines and other illness treating measures. This term is often used to justify increased egg prices, though antibiotic free eggs are the industry standard for other reasons.
Eggs which are pasteurized, either as a whole eggs or as a liquid separated from the shell. Eggs which are pasteurized in their shells are pasteurized by being immersed in a water bath at specific temperatures for specific amounts of times, killing any food borne pathogens.
Similar to cage free eggs in that the hens are not confined to cages and are free to move around, except the hens are also given access to the outdoors. To be declared “free range”, the hens must be allowed access to the outdoors, but as is almost always the case with free range hens, the outdoor access is often just a small, fenced off patch of concrete outside. Most free range hens are effectively the same as cage-free hens. On egg cartons, this marketing term is often used in conjunction with cartoons of chickens pecking around on sunny hillsides, but don’t be fooled as those cheery images could not be farther from the truth. This term allows egg producers to mark up the prices on their eggs like crazy, so stay away from this label and only buy certified pasture raised eggs if interested in optimizing your egg nutrition.
This term indicates that the hens were able to freely roam a room, building, or enclosed area during their production cycle, with access to unlimited water and feed. Compared to the average battery hen, which is afforded approximately 67 square inches of cage space (less than an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper), the average cage free hen is afforded approximately double that. Cage free eggs have their drawbacks though, as reported by the WSJ and researched by the Coalition for Substainable Egg Supply (an industry backed research group). Cage free eggs are better than those laid by caged hens, but not by a noticeable amount.
All Vegetarian Feed
This label simply designates that the chicken feed is simply all vegetarian feed, containing no animal products. While I personally wouldn’t prefer that the hens are fed heavily process animal byproducts, since chickens are natural omnivores, they require animal fats and proteins to grow properly and stay healthy. When chickens are fed an all vegetarian feed and are not given access to pasture to graze, they often turn to forced cannibalism and peck at each others tails and bodies, in a search for critical nutrients found primarily in animal products. Fed only an all vegetarian feed, the health of the hens suffer, and as a result, the nutritional value of the eggs they lay decreases. Eggs labeled “All Vegetarian Feed” is also a direct indicator that the eggs you are buying do not come from pasture raised hens, as hens with access to pasture are free to forage for non-vegetarian foods such as grubs and insects.
From the USDA:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”
Buying organic eggs is better than buying conventional eggs, but depending on the company, organic eggs can be and are usually produced in almost the same way as conventional eggs, which means inhumane conditions, poor nutrition, and lesser quality eggs.
Eggs laid from hens which have access to pasture. Pasture is defined as open grassland. The HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 sq. ft. per bird) and the fields must be rotated. The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather. For all intents and purposes, this definition of pasture raised is more than sufficient, and more than required by the USDA to label your eggs as pasture raised. The “Pasture Raised” marketing term is the only egg carton label which really guarantees that the egg laying hens were given sufficient access to the outdoors, ample space to run, fly, peck, and perform other natural behaviors, forage for grubs and insects, and be treated humanely. If you are going to buy any eggs, these are the ones.
Omega-3 fortified eggs are produced from hens fed flaxseed. Flaxseed is high in ALA Omega-3’s (which are poorly converted by the human body at a ~5-15% conversion rate into DHA and EPA omega-3’s). Unlike us, chickens are fairly good at converting ALA omega-3’s into DHA and EPA omega-3’s, so these eggs contain appreciable amounts of omega-3’s and are definitely better to eat than conventional eggs.
Brown eggs are all the rage nowadays, with many perceiving brown eggs as healthier and coming from smaller family farms, but this is false. The color of the egg shell, be it brown, white, blue, or green, is dependant on the breed of the chicken and is in no way correlated to the nutritional content of the egg. Brown eggs are often unjustly marked up in price compared to identical white eggs.
Whether you buy conventionally raised or pasture raised eggs, eggs are a healthy addition to ones diet, but when shopping for eggs at the grocery store, it is easy for information overload to occur. Some marketing terms are false, misleading, or pure bogus, while others are helpful indicators of different qualities of the eggs in questions. When in doubt, buy pasture raised eggs and rest easy that you are the healthiest eggs you can buy!
Egg marketing terms to avoid and/or place no value on:
- Hormone free
- All natural
- Antibiotic free
- All Vegetarian Feed
- Brown Eggs
Egg marketing terms which describe different qualities of the eggs:
- Omega-3 fortified
Egg marketing terms which describe the living conditions and humane treatment of the hens:
- Cage free
- Free range
- Pasture raised
Stefan Burns is a fitness, nutrition, and powerlifting buff. He created Strength Cooperative with a mission to provide lifters of all skill levels with the most proven training methods and nutritional strategies tested in the gym and backed by science. Follow Strength Cooperative on Facebook and Instagram.
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