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Erasing The Fuzziness Of Egg Label Claims

written by

Ben Simmons

posted on

January 30, 2021

Good Morning and hello from your farmers,

Hey all, this is Eric, Ben’s oldest. He (Ben) asked me to write for this week’s newsletter. Today I’d like to briefly discuss eggs and the misleading labeling that often surrounds them.

As some of you may remember, I started on the farm about a year ago taking over the care of our laying flock. I also care for our broiler (meat) chickens once they are moved to pasture. Guess that makes me a chicken tender!

Anyway, some of you probably go into the grocery store and see all the variety of eggs for sale. So many different options, and so many labels—ones like cage free, free range, organic, etc.

So what does each label actually mean?

Not much, in truth.

Lets begin with a look at what the typical commercial egg laying house looks like.

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These are the cheap eggs you find in your grocer's case. The hen eats, drinks, lays an egg and dies all in the small crowed cage. Her feet never touches the grass nor does she ever see sunshine.

“Cage free”
simply means just that—the birds aren’t in a cage. However, in the industrial model common to the big brands today, that simply doesn’t mean much—the hens still don’t ever go outside, and are very cramped in the building leading to lots of pecking each other (not to mention the risk of disease).

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This is an NPR picture of cage free hens! Copy is titled: “Cage-Free Egg Ads Can Exploit Food Industry’s Fuzzy Definitions”

“Free range”
means that the birds must have “outdoor access.” This is very vague and can mean they only open a small hole at some point in the day (which none of the birds tend to go through), or open it only to an enclosed deck. There are no standards requiring outdoor full-body access, minimum square footage, etc. This is another worthless label.

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This is a picture from Nellie’s website. The text associated with the picture states not all hens will venture outside. Inside the structure will be similar to the "cage free" picture.

“Local” 
means the flock is within 400 miles of the processing facility or within the same state. No standards as to how far the processing facility is from you and your plate. I personally have never taken a car trip 400 miles and considered it within the realm of ‘local.’ Just saying!

“Organic” 
means they were fed an organic plant based diet (chickens are carnivores meaning they should eat both plant and bugs), usually with the addition of the above labels (“cage-free, free range”). Otherwise, they are in the same state as the industrial model, with the same meaningless labels.

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“Pasture Raised” With this model, hens enjoy at least 108 square feet of pasture each with plenty of fresh air and sunshine year-round. This lifestyle gives the girls the freedom to forage through rotated pastures, feasting on a natural buffet of grasses daily and bugs. At Nature's Gourmet Farm we give our hens considerably more than that in a given year (keeping hens on the same turf too long not only removes all greenery—they like forage—but can burn the ground with their manure, leading to poor soil biology, disease risks, and weed issues).

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This is a recent picture of our hens on pasture to include their shelter for roosting at night and egg laying boxes. Notice how they are very content and safe in their natural environment.

Our eggs are gathered by hand every day. Each egg is individually touched five times between collecting through packaging. In 2020 our hens provided 367,000 eggs!

You can view a 1-minute video of how we move our hens here.

The value of our LOCAL hens really shined last Spring when all the other brands stopped shipment to Corner Market. Our girls stepped up big time and in many instances were the only eggs in the stores.

There are 5 or 6 national brands sold in Corner Market stores. All include one or more of the cage-free, free-range, or organic claims. They are all more than 400 miles away- so not local.

You as the consumer determine the future with your food dollars. You decide which system you support. And, as is common, you truly do often get what you pay for.

Labels mean little. Knowing your farmer and their system means much more.

I hope this explanation and pictures helped give you a clear understanding about labeling claims so you can make informed decisions regarding your food dollars.

Till next time,
Eric

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