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Decoding the Terms: Cage Free, Free Range & Pasture Raised Eggs

You’ve seen the egg cartons in the grocery store: “Cage Free!” and “Free Range!”.  And the newest one to hit the market “Vegetarian Raised!”

Well, you might be surprised to learn that those terms do NOT even remotely mean what you think they mean.

cage free eggs

With the exception of “Pasture Raised”, most of the terms used on an egg carton have been hijacked by the egg industry as marketing ploys.

When I fully came to understand this, I was outraged. Obviously, most of the people who would go to the trouble of buying a “Cage Free” egg are doing it (and paying more money) because they think it is better for the environment and the chicken. They also think produces a better egg.

But that is not the case. Not even close!

Filming at Polyface FarmTo help spread the word on the TRUTH behind these marketing terms, I recently wrote an entire segment into our Growing A Greener World episode at Polyface Farms where I have host Joe Lamp’l explain the differences.

And now, I am posting here in an effort to spread the word so we can all make the best choices. So here is the scoop:

CAGE FREE:

This only means that the chickens were not in cases. They can still be confined in very close quarters inside a building where they are standing in their own muck and can barely move. They have little or no access to the outdoors.

cage free eggs

FREE RANGE:

According to the USDA regulation, “free range” only means that the chickens were allowed “access” to the outside with no specifications as the quality or the duration of that outside exposure. So unfortunately, this term is mostly used where the chickens are crammed in large warehouses that has a small door on one end that opens to a few feet of outside dirt space. Most of the chickens never even know that door exists and couldn’t get there even if they wanted to.

Vegetarian Eggs

VEGETARIAN FED:

This is a newer term that is appearing on egg cartons. People read it and think, “Wow. The chickens must be fed healthy vegetables and grains.” Ummm…no. A chicken is a natural carnivore. It likes to eat bugs and insects. A “vegetarian raised” chicken was completely raised on industrialized feed (probably GMO) and was never allowed outside. EVER.

PASTURE RAISED: 

YES! At the moment, THIS is the term to go for.

Although it does not have any current regulations, it is being used by sustainable farmers to mean chickens raised in the outdoors..in the pasture. Pastured raised eggs are what we think they are. This is what you want to buy if you are shopping for eggs. (Until the industry hijacks this term too.)

 MORE…

For more information, here is an EXCELLENT video by one of my favorite websites Lexicon of Sustainability. It is only a few minutes long but very artfully explains why Pasture Raised is currently our best option if we care about the health of the chickens and the health of our environment.

Lexicon of Sustainability: The Egg Video

 

For other fun homeateading information and tips, visit The Barnhop over at Homestead Revival!

 

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.