What is the difference between cage free, free range, pasture raised and organic eggs?

What is the difference between cage free, free range, pasture raised and organic eggs?

When you walk down with your cart up to the egg section of your local grocery store, you won't be spoiled for choice. There is usually a choice between brown and white, but beyond the color, there are also many words that identify each carton (and often the price difference between them). Naming food is often muddled. (Do you know what best before, best before, and best before dates on food products actually mean?).

When it comes to eggs, some common terms you might see on the package are cage-free, free-range, pasture free and organic, and the first three can all seem very similar. We'll explain the meaning of each term so you can more easily decipher what marketing is and which terms have a more meaningful definition. 


Cage free 

What you can think about this statement: No one likes to think about chickens who are locked in small cages all their lives. You can see cage free in egg cartons and think that means that these chickens live a better life, free to roam outside in their yard with their chicken friends. 

What it really means: 

Although we fully understand why someone would come to this conclusion (in fact, that's what the label wants you to think), the truth is a little more complicated.
Cage free is the term regulated by the USDA, which the organization defines as eggs in which the laying hen can move vertically and horizontally in the house and have access to fresh food and water. Cage free systems vary from farm to farm, and can include multi-level aviaries.
This is a significant improvement in life in the battery cage, which allows only 67 square inches of open space for the birds (less than a sheet of paper.) These chickens still do not get access to outdoors though, cage free is certainly a step in the right  direction for better animal treatment or it's completely cruelty-free. 

Free range 

What You Think This Word Means: You may think of chickens roaming around the farm, stretching their legs and eating. Sounds like a good life.
What it really means: 

This is also a term regulated by the USDA, which means the same as "free-range" and also specifies that chickens must have "continual outdoor access during the egg-laying cycle In theory, this is great, but in practice, the space outside can be anything more than a small, crowded, fenced area. 


Pasture raised

What you might think this term means: Chickens roam free in the grass, free to forage and roam the green fields as they please.
What it really means:

USDA does not regulate this term, so it can be difficult to tell what this term means and may vary from brand to brand. If the carton is labeled as pasture raised and has the certified Humane logo, then you may know more about how the eggs are produced.
The Certified Humane pastured seal shows many important aspects of how the hens used to produce these eggs are raised and live.

  • They can roam free in the pasture during the day.
  •  Chickens can feed, run, perch, bathe and socialize.
  •  Chickens have tentacles to protect themselves from shade, water sources and sometimes trees.

 Every farm with this seal is audited by inspector who must have a master's degree or doctorate in animal science. They must be experts in the field they are reviewing.


What you would think that the words mean: You may not know about chicken skin. Perhaps you would think about health and chicken enjoying the farm with a great space on the outside of the bugs. 

What it really means: 

Eggs with the USDA National Organic Program label are defined as coming from "cage-free hens that are free to roam their homes and have access to the outdoors." The chickens are fed an organic diet consisting of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.
As for their access to the outdoors, organic egg producers must provide at least one square foot of outdoor space for every 2.25 pounds of poultry in their flock. That's not a lot of space, but it's more space than a broken chicken.
Other techniques to know
100% Natural: Natural is not a regulated term, so it doesn't mean much. Additionally, eggs are by definition a natural food product. This term is often confused with organic, but simply means that nothing has been added to the eggs.

Vegetarian: Chickens are omnivores, but when it comes to commercially produced eggs, this term can be useful because chickens are fed animal feed and feed. them, such as poultry or chicken feed. Anything labeled vegetarian means that the chicken meal does not contain these products.

 Hormone Free: This term is a bit of a misnomer because all living things have natural hormones. This term actually refers to added hormones. In the United States, it is against the law to feed chickens that produce eggs (and those that are sold for their meat). All eggs follow these standards, which makes the label null. 

No added antibiotics: This term means that no antibiotics were used in the chicken. Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat chickenpox, just like in humans. Therefore, if chickens should be treated with antibiotics, they should no longer be used for eggs or meat. This form does not show anything about how to develop chicken, if they have a chance to get out of the outside, or supplies.


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