When it comes to eggs, market shelves are filled with terms like “cage-free” and “free-range.” But the term “pasture-raised” is relatively new and many health professionals – not to mention, consumers – confuse the term with others. Even more confusing is the fact that the level of animal care among pasture-raised hens can differ between farms.
“Consumers are increasingly skeptical of ‘marketing terms’ that bear little relation to the realities of how the eggs are farmed, and rightly so,” says Jeff Hinds, vice president of quality assurance, compliance and food safety at Vital Farms, where I recently – full disclosure – went on a sponsored tour. Here’s what I learned about which terms mean what:
Pastured-raised hens also produce healthier eggs, according to a 2003 study out of Pennsylvania State University. In it, researchers found that one pasture-raised egg contains twice as much omega-3 fat, three times more vitamin D, four times more vitamin E and seven times more beta-carotene than eggs from hens raised on traditional feed.
From an agricultural standpoint, pasture-raised eggs are often superior too. When hens graze, manage their own feed and spread their own manure, farmers have less work and need less equipment.
Still, not all pasture-raised eggs are created equal. That’s why some egg companies choose to get other certifications like the “Certified Humane®” pasture seal. The benefit of this seal is that it identifies eggs that “meet very specific pasture standards” and that come from farms that have been inspected, according to Adele Douglass from Certified Humane®. What’s more, she adds, at these farms, “there has been a traceability audit to ensure every egg that goes into the carton comes from the Certified Humane® pasture farms.”
According Hinds of Vital Farms, the “Certified Humane®” seal is worthwhile in the absence of federally-defined standards for pasture-raised hens. “A third-party certification from a recognized and trustworthy organization [is] a literal seal of approval,” he says.
So what does this all mean for your next shopping trip? First and foremost, become familiar with egg terms including “caged,” “cage-free,” “free-range” and “pasture-raised.” If you can master those, then get into the nitty-gritty of third-party verifications like “organic,” “Non-GMO Project Verified” and “Certified Humane®.” After you have all the pertinent information, you will be better equipped to make the best decision for you and your family when purchasing eggs.