Labeling can be extremely confusing and there’s actually a reason for that. Sometimes, food manufacturers put claims on labels that really mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. These labels are meant to imply that a food has certain health benefits or that it’s better for you than other foods of its type, but that’s not always the case. So what’s the reason for this? Marketing of course! When it comes down to it, the food industry is a business so their major goal is to make money.
We wanted to make life a little easier for you, so we’re going to teach you what different terms mean and how to break things down. Since labeling is a vast category, we decided to delve into a labeling series over the course of the next few weeks.
For part 1, we’re going to break down labels on EGGS. Egg labels can be the most confusing because there are SO many different terms; and many of them are meant to be deceiving. Plus, since Easter is on the horizon, we thought it was only appropriate to start with eggs.
So here we go:
Farm Fresh – This might make visions of a local farmer waking up at the crack of dawn to collect eggs dance in your head, but this label means nothing. Total marketing scheme.
Natural/All Natural – Again, nothing. Sorry.
No Hormones/No Antibiotics – Egg farmers are not legally allowed to give their chickens hormones. Although antibiotics ARE used on chickens raised for meat, they are rarely used in the egg industry, so these terms really don’t mean too much. It’s nice that the eggs are hormone/antibiotic free, but ALL eggs are.
Vegetarian Diet/Fed a Vegetarian Diet – This doesn’t mean that the chickens laying your eggs were given nice fresh, organic salads filled with nutrient-rich veggies, it actually means they were fed corn, soy, and oils because those things are cheap. While “vegetarian” sounds good, chickens are actually omnivores who eat a lot of bugs and worms, so vegetarian fed is not your best bet.
Omega-3 Enriched – This generally means that some flaxseed was added to a chicken’s feed to increase the omega-3 content of the egg. This is to make conventional eggs seem more appealing.
Cage-Free – Cage-free means nothing more than the chickens were not confined to cages. Cage-free chickens may still live in a barn or warehouse without any access to the outdoors.
Free-Range – A step above cage-free. This means that the chickens were not confined to cages AND they were allowed access to the outdoors BUT there are no regulations on how much time they get to spend outside or what the chickens are fed.
Organic – Organic eggs must come from chickens that are free-range and fed organic feed (little to no exposure to pesticides, herbicides, commercial fertilizers and/or fungicides). These chickens may still be fed corn, oil, or soy (although it can’t be GMO) and there are no stipulations on how the chickens are treated.
Pasture-Raised – Pasture-raised birds spend most of their life outdoors plus they have access to a barn. They are able to eat their natural diet — worms, insects and grass, along with some supplemental feed (which may or may not be organic). Although there is no guarantee about how much space pasture-raised birds have to roam (they are usually still fenced in).
So what’s the gold standard? Which kind of eggs should you buy? Well, the answer to this really depends on your goals, but the label that means the most (i.e. it’s not just a marketing scheme) is organic, pasture-raised.
If you’re going to pay a premium for eggs, you want to get what you’re paying for, right?