As we’re finding out more and more these days, “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “produced outside the industrialized food system.” Research from non-profit Cornucopia Institute found that although federal guidelines say organic eggs must come from chickens with outdoor access, many organic egg producers are “confining tens of thousands of hens inside hen-houses, commonly only offering tiny concrete or wooden porches.” These producers say: So what? They’re using organic feed. They’ve cut out pesticides and antibiotics. And they’ve got a point. But you still might want to avoid the eggs they produce. Why? For some, the animal welfare issue alone is surely enough. But even if you could care less about livestock lifestyle, choosing non-industrially produced eggs might be better for your health:
Research at Pennsylvania State University reveals discernible nutritional benefits to the consumer from raising laying hens on pasture. When compared with caged hens fed only a commercial diet, pastured hens produce eggs with twice as much vitamin E and 2.5-fold more healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Mother Earth News conducted a similar study—comparing the nutritional qualities of conventional eggs with those produced by pastured hens. Their tests found that pasture raised eggs contain one-third less cholesterol, one-quarter less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids and three times more vitamin E. Since the nutritional benefits stem from the hens’ consumption of greens outside, hens that have access to “mock” outside areas (concrete, gravel, wood or a dirt moonscape) would be unlikely to produce eggs with the same nutritional attributes.
Some of the larger brands (there were many state-specific brands profiled) that scored ‘very good,’ ‘excellent’ or ‘exemplary’ include:
- Vital Farms (sold in Whole Foods markets nationwide)
- Organic Valley
- Nature’s Yoke
- Farmers’ Hen House
- World’s Best Eggs
- Giving Nature
- Wilcox Farms
- Cornucopia gave a 1-egg rating (“ethically deficient”) to these national brands:
- Eggland’s Best
- Horizon Organic
- Land O’Lakes.
And many of the major organic egg brands declined to provide the Institute with any information about their suppliers. This included 365 Organics by Whole Foods, Trader’s Joe’s, O Organic (by Safeway), Nature’s Promise (Giant), Meijer Organics, Kirkland Signature (Costco) and Great Value (Wal-Mart) brand eggs.
See the “Egg Scorecard” here. For more on health- and animal-welfare friendly eggs, see Blisstree’s Guide to Organic, Free-Range, and Cage-Free.