I occasionally write about the way to shop for chicken and eggs, sometimes we get deep and look at the Cornucopia Institute and their ratings. But this current article from Mercola is a must read for anyone who eats chicken… ever!
Here it is in partial – you can read it all at the link!
Organic, Cage-Free, Free-Range or Pastured… Sorting Through the Confusion on Egg Labels
By Dr. Mercola
Proteins are nutrients that are essential to the building, maintenance and repair of your body tissues such as your skin, internal organs and muscles. They are also the major components of your immune system and hormones.
Proteins are found in all types of food, but only foods from animal sources, such as meat and eggs contain complete proteins, meaning they provide the eight essential amino acids.
Eggs, as well as the chickens they come from, are both healthful sources of protein but ONLY if raised the way nature intended… Unfortunately, as illustrated in the video above, today’s agricultural model of factory farming has complicated what used to be a simple affair.
Organic, Cage-Free, Free-Range, or Pasture-Raised?
Health conscious consumers know to look for designations like “organic,” “free-range,” ”pastured” and “cage-free,” but while you may think these are interchangeable, they’re actually not. In many ways these labels are little more than creative advertising.
The definitions of “free-range” are such that the commercial egg industry can run industrial farm egg laying facilities and still call them “free-range” eggs, despite the fact that the birds’ foraging conditions are far from what you’d call natural.
For example, regulations on the use of the term “free-range” do not specify the amount of time the hens must spend outdoors or the amount of outdoor space each hen must have access to. Nor do they indicate that the hen must have access to a pasture diet.
True free-range eggs, now increasingly referred to as “pasture-raised,” are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
Large commercial egg facilities typically house tens of thousands of hens and can even go up to hundreds of thousands of hens. Obviously they cannot allow all of them to forage freely. They can still be called “cage-free” or “free-range” though, if they’re not confined to an individual cage. But these labels say nothing about the conditions they ARE raised in, which are still deplorable.
So, while flimsy definitions of “free range” and “cage-free” allow such facilities to sell their products as free range, please beware that a hen that is let outside into a barren lot for mere minutes a day, and is fed a diet of corn, soy, cottonseed meals and synthetic additives is NOT a free-range hen, and simply will not produce the same quality eggs as its foraging counterpart. There’s also the issue of veterinary drug contamination. As reported in the featured article1:
“Formally certified organic accreditation – which is a membership-based process and comes with it a logo on packaging – signifies whether the chicken is free from unnatural additives or processes. Most brands don’t actually hold this accreditation.
[C]ertified organic poultry is the only poultry product that is 100 per cent guaranteed to be antibiotic-free. “Antibiotics can be fed to conventional chickens to accelerate weight gain and treat or prevent disease. “Free-ranging chickens can be treated with therapeutic antibiotics under veterinary direction and sold with the use of coccidiostats [a chemical agent added to animal feed]”, says Sally, author of Eat Yourself Healthy in 28 Days…”
So to summarize, what you’re really looking for is chicken and eggs that are both certified organic and true pasture-raised. Barring organic certification, which is cost-prohibitive for many small farmers, you could just make sure the farmer raises his chickens according to organic, free-range standards, allowing his flock to forage freely for their natural diet, and aren’t fed antibiotics, corn and soy.
Organic Pastured Eggs Contain Superior Nutrients
Testing2 has confirmed that true free-range eggs are far more nutritious than commercially raised eggs. The dramatically superior nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free ranging, pastured hens and commercially farmed hens. In a 2007 egg-testing project, Mother Earth News compared the official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs with eggs from hens raised on pasture and found that the latter typically contains the following:
2/3 more vitamin A 3 times more vitamin E 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids 7 times more beta carotene