Cage-Free, Free-Range, Organic: What’s the Difference?
Posted on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 at 8:00 am
For many families, eggs are considered a staple on their weekly grocery list. Before deciding if you want brown or white eggs, large or small eggs, and whether you’ll use the full dozen, you must make the choice between organic, cage-free, free-range, and vegetarian eggs. For some, this distinction might not really make a difference. If you’ve committed yourself and your family to an organic or natural diet, understanding the subtle difference between egg types is pretty important.
Cage-free eggs are the right choice for anyone who finds chicken cages to be small and inhumane. Cage-free eggs come from chickens that don’t live in cages. Typically, these chickens live in a covered barn with bedding material like pine shavings on the floor beneath them. They are provided with nest boxes and are allowed perches to lay their eggs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that some cage-free chickens may still live in extremely close quarters with other chickens – just not in cages.
In order for a chicken to qualify as free-range, they must be provided with the freedom to go outside. In this case, chickens can either have free access to the outdoors, or they must spend some portion of their day outside. The type of outdoor access they are offered could include a small covered patio-like area, or a larger uncovered space to roam. It all depends on the farm.
In order for a carton of eggs to bear organic certification from the USDA, there are several strict guidelines chicken farmers must adhere to. For starters, their chickens must be free from any vaccines, hormones, or antibiotics. Their diet must also consist of grain that has been grown on land free from toxic pesticides or fertilizers for a 3 year period, and it must be free from genetically modified organisms. This is the best choice for anyone committed to an organic diet.
While the term, “vegetarian egg” might sound strange, it actually refers to the chicken’s diet. In short, vegetarian chickens eat feed that is free from meat or fish by-products. They are kept in cages or indoors so that they cannot consume any bugs or worms found outside.
Keep in mind that different farms are run differently. If you’re really curious about where your eggs come from and how the chickens are raised, look into where the eggs in your store come from. You can then conduct some research on your own to find the farm that fits your values the best!