If you’ve ever been to a grocery store in the United States, then you’ve been faced with dozens and dozens of egg cartons from different farms from all over the country, each adorning one certification seal or another. Words like “free range” and “organic” try to compel you to choose one of these items over the others. But what do these words mean? What is the difference between a “free range” egg and an “organic” egg, and is the latter one worth the extra money?
The short answer to this question is that yes, it very much is; for, in America, organic eggs are produced by hens that are not caged and must fed organic diets. The longer answer to the question, however, can be found in this piece.
Labels are sometimes useful
It is an unfortunate fact that not all farm animals are treated humanely in the United States, and that fewer than 5% of hens raised in these environments meet the USDA’s “organic” standard. This means that less than 5% of all animals raised for meat, poultry, or eggs have been raised in an environment where they are not injected with growth hormones or fed animal byproducts and GMO crops.
If the horrors faced by these animals that are given such treatment are bad not enough, all of the hormones and other chemicals ingested they are exposed to are, then, ingested by those who consume these animal products.
And here we can see the main distinction between organically raised chickens and free range chickens; the former must be fed organic diets and must not be injected with any hormones or chemical treatments in the exception of a medical emergency. The former does not have to meet such requirements.
Organically raised chickens also tend to be raised in smaller flocks, giving each individual hen more attention.
Natural molting process
Besides an outdoor space and an organic diet, organic eggs must also have been produced in a natural molting process. Forced molting is sadly too common despite the suffering they inflict upon the animal and the health concerns they might create.
Such methods include restricting the amount of light the hens are exposed to in an attempt to simulate the natural molting process. Feed and water are also drastically reduced. These methods of temporary starvation and light restriction not only cause the birds to lose much of their body-weight, but it can also leads them to lose their feathers and, in some cases, their deaths.
Other consequences of forced molting include a decline in birds’ immune system, making them more susceptible to diseases such as salmonella.
While forced molting practices are prohibited in the EU, no such laws currently exist in the United States. The UK prohibits forced molting through starvation methods but not through the creation of dietary mineral imbalance. Thanks to animal welfare organizations, the practice has become all but obsolete in Canada.
All of that being said, an organic certificate or seal does not guarantee a cruelty-free farm. In 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported that over a million USDA organic certified hens were kept in such small spaces that measured up to three hens per square foot. Due to a loophole that allows the word “outdoor” to be interpreted as a small porch in the barn, many of these animals were never allowed to set foot outside.
This means that if you wish to consume eggs that have been ethically produced, shopping exclusively organic eggs might be a good place to start, but should not be where your efforts end. Researching local farms around your area and learning about their practices is the best way to ensure you are supporting humane farms while also ensuring you are not consuming animal products that are filled with chemicals and hormones.
Despite their higher price, the extra cares given in organically raised farms makes it so not only is the final product better for your own health, but so that the animals raised in these farms do not have to suffer.