It happens every week: past the produce and beyond the breads, the towering wall of egg cartons brings you to a crossroads. Purchasing ethical eggs has turned into a multiple-choice test: organic or non-GMO, pasture-raised, free range, cage free, or the mysteriously on sale and unlabeled. And they come in different colors, too? In deciding which eggs are good, better, and best, we end up creating a shopping cart traffic jam. Now, Green America has the answers with an egg-buying guide to help you decode the labels. At the end of the day, the greenest egg-sellers take both environment and animal welfare into consideration.
The Significance of Egg Color
While egg shell color tells us little else but the breed of hen, what lies within each egg can tell us even more. A cloudier egg white means a fresher egg, while an orange yolk is evidence of a carotenoid-rich diet, a nutrient found in grasses, flowers, and small insects, which indicates a pasture-grazing diet versus factory farm grain.
Stamps of Approval: Which Food Labels to Trust
While persuasive packaging might promise “natural” and “humane” products from happy and healthy chickens, the right certifications do the work for you by confirming what is legitimate versus greenwashing. The best certifications honestly fulfill their own claims and ensure responsible environmental and animal welfare practices.
The next time you shop, keep an eye out for these labels:
Ken Roseboro, editor and publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, explains the importance of buying organic when shopping for eggs: “I first look for the organic seal, which ensures the products I buy are produced in such a way to eliminate pesticides and other harmful substances, support soil health to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change, while supporting organic farmers who work hard to produce better quality foods.”
USDA Organic: Products contain only organically produced ingredients (without any genetic engineering) that are grown, handled, and processed without pesticides or other synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.
Non-GMO Project Verified: Chicken feed does not contain any genetically engineered ingredients above a set threshold. Remember, while not all non-GMO products are organic, all organic products are GMO-free.
Of course, we can’t forget the stars behind our egg-buying adventure—chickens! That’s why certifications endorsing animal welfare are crucial.
“The organic certification doesn’t address chicken welfare, and I only eat a few types of animal products, so I try to find eggs that also carry the Certified Humane seal,” Eleanor Greene, Green American editor-in-chief says. “I’m willing to spend more to have peace of mind about those two things.”
Certified Humane: Egg-laying hens have access to fresh water and diets that maintain health and well-being. Cages are prohibited and environmental factors including light, litter, space, and equipment all have strict regulations.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW: Animals have continuous access to pasture, are not put on feedlots, and cage confinement, hormones, and preventative or growth-promoting antibiotics are prohibited.
Shopping for ethical eggs can feel like a puzzle, but with the right clues, you can make informed and responsible purchases. As a bonus, look for cardboard packaging and eggs from local farms when you can. Now get crackin’!