Egg labels explained


Some people are lucky enough to know someone who raises chickens and will sell them eggs fresh from their hens. The rest of us must rely on commercial egg producers. Egg cartons from these producers contain plenty of jargon, but many of the friendly-sounding terms don't have any real meaning, explains NPR's The Salt. Their recent article demystifies the various phrases found on egg cartons in the U.S.

One commonly found term, "farm fresh," is completely unregulated and "literally means nothing," according to Paul Shapiro, an expert on commercial egg production and VP of the Humane Society of the U.S. He believes "the term is probably meant to conjure up a favorable image in the consumer's mind, but it has no substance whatsoever." The same holds true for "all natural," which is also unregulated. The irony emerges when you consider that most hens are raised indoors in small cages, far from a true natural environment.

Other terms do have some rules for their use, but are probably not exactly what you envision. "Cage free" means just that, but it doesn't mean the birds are, well, free as a bird. Cage free birds "usually live in aviaries: massive industrial barns that house thousands of birds. Each bird has, on average, 1 square foot of space." That's an improvement over caged birds, but not by much.

Probably the most regulated term is "organic," which has many requirements for a company who wants the designation. To be labeled as USDA Organic, the eggs must come from "chickens that are free-range (cage-free plus access to the outdoors), fed organic feed (no synthetic pesticides) and receive no hormones or antibiotics."

The article also explains terms like "free range," "pasture raised," and "Omega-3." There's also a link to an egg scorecard, where you can see how your favorite brand ranks according to the Cornucopia Institute, a populist farm policy research group based in Wisconsin.

Photo of real farm fresh eggs by Darcie Boschee

1 Comment

  • Mimiwill  on  12/25/2014 at 3:44 PM

    Thanks for the explanation. Why pay more for nothing extra. I always wonder about eggs that come from far away, being trucked, and if the storage is kept refrigerated the entire trip. I try to at least buy from my state (Washington) or a nearby state.

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