What do the labels on the egg cartons really mean?
Free-Range: Hens have access to the outdoors (weather permitting). There is no legal definition inCanada for how much access they get.
Free Run: Hens can only roam indoors. Again, there is no legal definition of how much room the hens get.
Certified Organic: Free Range hens have access to roam outdoors, weather permitting and given some space to move inside. Farms are independently audited for animal welfare. Organic chicken must be raised with certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.
SPCA Certified: Pretty much the same conditions as a free range hen but may also be restricted to roam indoors(free-run).
Hormone Free: A marketing gimmick. Hormones in the poultry industry have been banned inCanada since the 1960’s but antibiotics may still be in the feed to prevent disease.
Grain Fed: Majority of the chicken feed inCanada is 88% grain but the remaining 12% can be corn, soy. pea and animal by-products(meat and bone meal).
Vegetarian: Chickens are fed grain that doesn’t contain any animal by-products.
Omega 3 Enhanced: Ground flaxseed is added to the feed to increase the omega 3 content of the egg.
Is there a difference in nutrient content in free run versus free range eggs?
According to the Egg Farmers of Alberta the nutrient content is the same. Of course Omega 3 enriched eggs will have more omega 3 content and organic eggs will be free of antibiotic and pesticide residue.
Do healthy and happy chickens produce more nutritious eggs?
The jury is still out on this one but how could you not consider that healthy and happy hens produce more nutritious eggs?
Interesting Fact: Chickens are omnivores. This means that if they were pastured (raised outside) they would eat grass, seeds, bugs and worms. The real question is why are we feeding them grain, corn, soy and dead animal by-products?
So what are the best type of eggs to buy?
As you have probably gathered there is no easy answer. In my opinion the best eggs are the ones that come from humanely raised hens that were able to roam outside and eat feed that is free of antibiotics, pesticides and animal by-products. You have to decide what criteria are important to you.
Visit a farmer’s market and do some research of your own. Read the labels carefully but ideally you should talk to the farmer selling the eggs. Just because there isn’t a fancy label on the carton doesn’t mean anything. Get to know your farmers and ask them how the hens are housed and what they are fed.
If you find a good source of eggs, spread the words to your friends and family! Don’t keep it a secret.