A Guide To Understanding Egg Carton Labeling

Have you ever wondered what all those egg carton labels mean? You may find your self in front
of the super markets egg case especially this time of year when your own hens egg production
may be down do to decreased day light, cold weather, etc. As you may well know, there are many
egg choices available such as cage free, free range, organic, natural, etc. Here is a quick guide
to help you understand egg carton labeling claims.

Cage Free
Birds are kept in large houses instead of individual cages. They do not necessarily have to have
access to the outdoors, or much space to move around. Also, there are no regulations on what
the chickens are fed, and forced molting and debeaking are allowed. Nutritionally they are the
same as caged eggs. Here is the USDA definition for cage free:
''Cage-free. This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room,
or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.''

Barn Laid
This label basically is the same as the ''cage free'' label.

Free Range
Hens are kept in what backyard poultry standards would be considered extremely overcrowded,
but can go about natural chicken behavior such as preening, roosting, nesting, etc. This label
is very similar to the ''cage free'' label, but hens must be allowed some type of access to the
outdoors, usually meaning a small concrete run. There are no regulations on feed, etc, and
debeaking and forced molting are allowed. Here is the USDA definition for free range:
''Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or
area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during
their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with
netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.

''Free roaming'' hens

Free roaming
Basically the same as ''free range''

Since all eggs can technically considered ''natural'' this label doesn't really mean anything.
There are no regulations on this label. It also doesn't have anything to do with how the birds
were raised and fed. Here is what the USDA has to say about the natural label:
''Natural. As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must
be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label
does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of
meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural
food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.

Certified Humane
Birds are kept uncaged inside large barns or warehouses, but may be kept indoors at all times.
They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, dust bathing, and
preening. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting
boxes. Forced molting is not allowed, but debeaking is. This label has to do with how the birds
were raised not on the nutritional value of the eggs.

Certified Organic
Birds are kept uncaged inside large barns or warehouses, and must have outdoor access,
though it may only be a small fenced, concrete in run. They may have access to dust bathes,
perches, etc. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics, animal products,
and pesticides. Debeaking and forced molting are allowed.

Omega 3 or Omega 3 Enriched
This label mean the hens were fed omega 3 fatty acids, usually flax seed, marine algae, or
fish oils. Unless otherwise noted on the carton, hens are probably kept in cages.
This label has nothing to do with how the bird was raised.

Brown Eggs
Have you ever noticed that brown eggs often cost more than white eggs? It has to do with the
myth that brown, blue or green eggs are more nutritious than white eggs. This is untrue as shell
color has nothing to do with taste or quality. All it means is that the eggs came from production
reds, red sex links, or another high producing breed, vs production white leghorns.
It has nothing to do with how the birds were raised or fed.

Vegetarian Fed
Hens are fed a diet containing no animal related ingredients. Since chickens are really
omnivores and like to eat bugs, this label means they don't get access to the outdoors.
This label is only about what the chickens were fed. And has nothing to do with how the
birds were raised

Gluten Free
This is a marketing gimmick since all eggs are naturally gluten free. If the birds are fed grain
containing gluten, it is broken down in the hens digestive system and is not passed into the eggs.

Hormone Free
Another marketing gimmick as all eggs are now hormone free.

Eco Eggs or Farm Fresh
These labels don't really mean anything, companies add them to trick the consumer into
thinking their product is better. If there are no other labels or certifications on the carton,
these eggs likely came from caged birds.

These are probably the best eggs you can buy, but they are also the most expensive. True
pastured eggs are from hens that have free access to the outdoors at all times like the birds
in the below picture. They have the space to perform all of their natural behaviors, and have
not had their beaks trimmed, etc.

Pastured birds

Further Reading:

Fresh, homegrown eggs from your own flock are hands down the absolute best!

If possible, buy your eggs from a local farm were you can see the birds and how they are
raised and fed.
If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
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