Years ago, when our farm was considering getting a "Certified Organic" certification from the USDA, we did quite a bit of research on what that really meant and how the terms were defined. After learning more about it, we decided we were NOT going to go forward with it because the definitions were below the standard we wanted to set for our farm.
Recently a friend brought this back to our attention and we thought it is excellent information to share again. Many people likely have no idea what the labels on the packaging of eggs really means.
Photos of farms and happy chickens grazing is what you might see on the package photo. But most of the time, nothing could be farther from the truth. So what do those definitions mean? Here's a great education for you from Buyer's Guide to Eggs by Cynthia Sass M.P.H., R.D.
Cage-Free "Per U.S. Department of Agriculture, these eggs come from hens that are housed in a ‘building, room or enclosed area that allows for unlimited access to food, water and provides freedom to roam within the area during the laying cycle.’ There are no requirements for the minimum amount of space per hen or any outdoor access.
Free-range The USDA defines free-range eggs as eggs that come from hens housed in an area allowing unlimited access to food, water, and the outdoors during their laying cycle. The outdoor area may be fenced or covered with netting. As with cage-fee, there are no minimum space requirements or ‘furnishing,’ nor is there a description of how hens can exit the building. (We have seen first-hand that many of these buildings have small exit doors and most of the hens never find their way out. Those that do, quickly scratch up the any green growing grass or weeds outside so that there is nothing left after about a week. Leaving a filthily, dirt lot.)
Organic Hens are uncaged, free to roam their houses and have access to the outdoors. They eat an organic diet. But there are no animal welfare standards beyond that. And 80% of organic eggs are currently produced in industrial style farms where hens have little access to the outside, sometimes only a small covered ‘porch’, says a Cornucopia Institutes report.
Certified Humane Humane Farm Animals are required to have no cages ever. Hens must be able perch and have secluded nest boxes, among other requirements. Each hen has at minimum 1 square foot of space.
United Egg Producers Certified UEP is that egg companies’ trade group and stipulates how birds are handled, transported, euthanized, etc. it certifies over 80% of caged birds, so this seal indicates the status quo for chicken treatment. For example, hens can be raised in as little as 67 square inches of space each (that’s a little larger than a 8-inch square).
American Human Certified The America Humane Association certifies egg producers with its own standards. They are better than UEP standards but not as rigorous as other animal-welfare groups.
Animal Welfare Approved These are the most rigorous standards. All birds are cage-free, get at least 4 square feet each and have continuous outdoor access. The maximum flock size is 500 birds, and only family farms can participate.
Pasture-Raised There are no specific guidelines and on third-party audits for ‘pasture-raised,’ nor is it USDA-regulated. (So that claim on the box means literally nothing, there is no accountability unless you visit the farm yourself.)
Natural Nothing is added to eggs, so all eggs are technically ‘natural,’ says the USDA." As you can see, not all eggs are created equal! That is why several of our past customers have told us that they were not able to eat eggs from the store because they had bad reactions to them, but they are able to eat eggs from our farm! If you can't have chickens of your own, find a local farmer and be consistent getting eggs from him! A good farmer is the best friend to have.