We are familiar with labels on our foods indicating “low fat”, “cholesterol-free” or “low carb”. Most of us are even familiar with the “organic”, “hormone-free” or even “fair trade” labels. But if you look closely, you will see all kinds of labels on your food. Labels that are trying to persuade a consumer to feel good about the choice they are making. Some are a little frivolous (yes, Jell-o is low carb and Red Vines are a cholesterol-free food, but they always have been), but other labels tell us about how the product is processed, how the animal is treated or even the ethics of a farmer! This post is just focusing on eggs, but there are a myriad of other food labels on all kinds of foods!
Did you even know that there are labels on your egg cartons? A lot of times, they just blend in with all of the other packaging information. Eggs can have various labels that mean a wide variety of things to the consumer. In an effort to market to a wide variety of consumer wants and needs, labels have developed that not only address nutritional needs of both humans and poultry, but also indicate humane treatment of the chickens which lay the eggs.
Below you can see the various types of labels found on eggs sold in grocery stores. Some labels refer to the welfare of the animals while others address the egg itself. One surprising label is indicates the difference between a “USDA Certified Organic” label and others which may presumably be a more quality label and, therefore, indicate a superior product such as “Cage Free” or “Free Range”. Next time you go to the store, look and see how many of these labels you can find!
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 45% of people in the United States try to include organic foods in their diet. We often are picky about the type of produce we choose, whether it be conventionally grown or organic. Have you ever considered the egg? In a rush to get through the grocery store and home to make dinner we often times do not consider the quality of product that we are purchasing, instead reaching for the least expensive option or our preferred brand.
Americans shop for their food based safety, health needs due to dietary restrictions, the addition of vitamins and minerals to a product in order to enhance health and sustainability issues including consuming organic products and shopping locally. Eggs are no exception. Most of us are familiar with “USDA Organic” and would likely feel that this would be good enough. After all, it’s good enough for my produce, right? If you are concerned about the treatment of the hens themselves, look for the “Biodynamic Farming” label, which means that the hens were raised humanely, not fed animal byproducts or antibiotics and sustainable farming practices were used which help to preserve natural habitat.
If you cannot find this type of label, consider purchasing eggs with a “Vegetarian Fed” label which indicates that the hens were fed grains, corn, cottonseed and soybean meal. Quality feed affects the quality of the hen and, subsequently, the quality of the egg that she lays. If you want to eat healthy, the animal you are eating needs to have eaten healthy, too!
The easiest label to find on your carton of eggs will likely be “cage-free” or “free-range”. While cage-free chickens may not have been confined to a cage, they may have been confined to a barn with many other chickens. Similarly, free-range chickens have the freedom to go outside of the enclosed building in which they live, but many times do not because they do not like to roam far from food and water.
The best way to have control over the quality of eggs you consume is to buy straight from your local farm because you can ask the farmer about his or her farming practices. You may even be able to visit the farm yourself and see how the hens are treated and raised. In the end, you have to decide what is important to you when purchasing your eggs: the treatment of the animal, what the animal ate or the overall quality of the egg itself. Do a little research and take some time to discover the best product for you! It may just make you slow down at the grocery store or the farmer’s market and do a little investigative work.
Check out websites like LocalHarvest and Eat Wild to find a list of local farmers near you if you would like to purchase straight from the farm!
Fikes, D., & Demeritt, L. (2016). US Grocery Shopper Trends, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2016, from http://www.fmi.org/docs/default-source/webinars/fmi-2016-us-grocery-shopper- trends-overview-webinar5ce7030324aa67249237ff0000c12749.pdf?sfvrsn=2
Riffkin, R. (2014). Forty-Five Percent of Americans Seek Out Organic Foods. Retrieved March 27, 2017, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/174524/forty-five-percent- americans-seek-organic-foods.aspx
Stewart, K. L. (2007). Eating between the lines: the supermarket shopper's guide to the truth behind food labels. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.