Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Humane Eggs

Egg production is ugly business for most chickens that supply our supermarkets. But due to pressure from consumers, more humane growing methods are becoming more popular. Unfortunately, we don't always know what the labels on the egg cartons mean. So if you don't have a local source of eggs and know where your eggs are coming from, here is a short primer on egg carton lingo and what it means to the chicken.

Traditional egg production facilities mean life in a very small cage for most hens. However, if you see the terms "free range," "free roaming," or "cage free" the hens can walk around, flap their wings, and preen. Hens are probably kept in a large flock in open warehouses.

"Free range" or "free roaming" means chickens have access to the outside. However, what access to the outside means is ambiguous. It can mean that outside access is limited and on dirt or concrete.

"Cage free" does not mean the birds have had access to the outside.

If the carton says "certified humane" it means the birds were raised in a manner that meets certification requirements of Humane Farm Animal Care. Laying hens must be uncaged and have access to perches, nest boxes and dust-bathing areas. Flock density is limited but birds are not required to have access to the outdoors. Beak trimming is allowed; debeaking is not. Starvation to induce molting is not permitted.

Many pay a lot more for "certified organic" eggs. This means the birds must be fed organic, vegetarian feed and cannot be dosed with antibiotics. Birds cannot be caged. However, birds may be debeaked and starved to induce molting. The amount of outdoor access to the birds is not clearly defined and on many organic farms, birds may have access only to a small concrete yard.

"Omega 3" eggs are also quite pricey. All eggs have omega-3 fatty acids in small amounts. Omega-3 can be increased in eggs by feeding flaxseed, fish oil or alfalfa meal. If we're lucky, the grower will choose instead to increase omega-3 through allowing the birds to forage on lawn or pasture.

Although not on the carton, when you open the egg, the brighter orange the yolk, the more carotenoids the egg contains.

We need to encourage pastured egg and chicken production. Pastured eggs contain 10% less fat, 34% less cholesterol, 40% more Vitamin A and 4 times the amount of omega-3. Pastured chicken meat contains 21% less fat and 50% more Vitamin A than the USDA standard.

I'm going to snoop around and see what I can find in the local area. Anyone have any good sources?

1 comment:

  1. I haven't purchased eggs in about 9-10 months, after seeing undercover PETA video of the cruelty to unwanted male chicks who are sent on the same day their lives start, on a conveyor belt, to a meat grinder...where they fall in and are chopped up! After that, I refused to buy eggs from any supplier that I could not substantiate did not treat animals any better than this.

    I am more than familiar with the shifty and nebulous language of product packaging, but because I want to start buying eggs again, I began looking for humane sources. I emailed the WF farmer's market for a line on a local producer, and I emailed United Supermarket requesting contact info for their Red River Farms supplier, so I can ask specifically of them, how they treat their animals.

    After recently also watching some horrible undercover video from Mercy for Animals from a Butterball facility, where turkeys were being smacked in the head with a metal bar...looks like I won't be buying turkey anymore for a while either, until I can find a humane source for that! then there's also the recent revelation of the video from McDonald's former egg supplier, showing how badly they torture their chickens, swinging them around by their wings, kicking them, and debeaking them and throwing them into overfilled bins. It's barbaric at best.

    I'm really being pushed toward vegetarian the more and more I see of the inhumane treatment of animals for food production, and I already gave up buying beef and pork over a year ago after seeing what happens to those animals. As an animal rescuer and rehabilitator, I just simply can't support that kind of treatment with my dollars anymore.

    Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue