Supermarket Eggs: Organic, Cage Free, Free Range, and Whatever All That Means

Categories: Ethical Eating
Photo by Instagram user fran_t
Walk into any egg section of any supermarket, you are bound to be bombarded with dozens of varieties, with multiple labels and certification seals. Do you merely walk over, pick up a dozen, and just get on with your shopping? Or do stand in front of the coolers studiously reading the labels wondering what each one means? If so, you are not alone.

Here then is a guide to cage free, free range, and basic old eggs.

Grocery store brand eggs
Let's start with the basic, grocery-store-brand eggs. Today, they were listed for $1.69 a dozen at Publix. The only certification listed on the package was that of the United Egg Producers. According to its website, "UEP Certified eggs are your assurance that those eggs originate from farms dedicated to following responsible, science-based farming methods designed to ensure optimal hen welfare. Hens under UEP Certified program are never fed hormones and are independently audited for 100% compliance." 

Sounds great, although that doesn't actually mean much. Poultry are never fed hormones to begin with, and unless otherwise stated, laying hens are housed in cages. Each hen is likely allocated 67 square inches for its entire life span. That's less space than a sheet of paper. It sounds as though UEP's definition of "optimal welfare" is rather subjective.

Eggland's Best cage-free eggs
"Cage free" is the next step up. Eggland's Best cage free were going for $3.91 a dozen. The other option was 4 Grain Cage Free for $3.39. This carton stated, "4 Grain cage free eggs are produced by hens who perch, scratch, and nest in an all-natural environment and are fed only the purest all-natural grain feed." This description fits the gist of cage-free eggs, although there is no third party auditing. The all-natural environment is generally an enclosed barn, but at least the hens have some room to move around. You'd hope so for paying more that twice the price of conventional eggs.

Greenwise Organic eggs
There's also Publix Greenwise Organic eggs for $4.09 a dozen. This package proclaimed: "100% organic produced by hens who are fed a wholesome diet, with no hormones or antibiotics added." The USDA organic and Quality Certification Services seals were stamped on the box. These certifications indicate that the hens are fed organic grain, are not caged, are not fed antibiotics, and are allowed access to the outdoors and sunlight. The amount of outdoor access isn't clear, but organic eggs are audited by a third-party.

Country Hen cage-free eggs
The most expensive were the Country Hen cage-free eggs. For $2.99 a half dozen, the hens enjoy "sunlit barns and porches." How bucolic, right? While these eggs certainly sound the most humane out of the bunch, are they really worth the price? That depends on how much value you put on the quality of life for the hens producing your egg -- and whether you're willing to pay three times the price for bucolic farming. 

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Where are you going to find such eggs in South Florida?

T. A. Wyner
T. A. Wyner

Super-markets are great for a myriad of products................not "fresh" your eggs from the hand that gathers the eggs from happy healthy chickens.The "bloom" of an egg is Nature's protection.  Most of the eggs found in super-markets have been bathed in a bleach/water solution that removes the bloom that left to Nature would last more than a few days.  In some cases, eggs must be transported to a "licensed" facility to be "bathed" the egg loses its freshness.  Facilities that "bathe" eggs from various farms...may be transmitting illness from one farm's chickens to other farms' eggs.  Go to a farmers' market.  Meet local small scale egg producers.  Ask how they care for their chickens...what they feed they live......truly "free range" or limited.  You'll be pleasantly surprised in the brilliant color of truly fresh eggs..........the yolk is not only brilliant in color, but stands high above most super-market eggs.  The whites whip up higher as well. They taste better....................AND..............when you buy fresh local eggs from the hand that gathers the are supporting your local economy;  you are preserving the environment , by keeping small scale farm land, farmed; and you are eating healthy.


Anyone who is concerned about what standards some of these brands actually live up to can check out also have a scorecard for dairy producers.

Mike Moskos
Mike Moskos

Most farmer's markets have eggs, but they are of varying quality so ask. If the vendor is also selling local produce, in general, that's the vendor who's going to have the best eggs. You can also try this non-profit website:

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