There has been a justifiable outcry among many consumers in the past few years about the treatment of egg-laying hens. Increasing numbers of people have become aware of and opposed to some of the arguably inhumane “standard operating procedures” of the multinational egg and poultry businesses. The following is a summary of what all those labels on your eggs actually mean.
Conventional Eggs: These eggs often don’t have their harvesting practices labeled, and are the least expensive to purchase. In conventional systems, four hens are typically housed in each two-square-foot “battery cage”, in window-less barns containing thousands of birds. This makes them prone to injury and infection, so they receive antibiotics daily, as well as hormones to increase egg production. Their feed is unregulated, so they’re often fed leftover animal by-products mixed with grain. Battery cages are now banned in the EU and are often the subject of animal-rights debates in Canada and the USA.
These eggs are produced by hens that “run free” in an open concept barn that has a variety of nests and perches. The hens are not housed in cages. This “freedom” to move about within the confines and safety of the barn has a discernible impact on the hens. (Our farmers swear that the birds are noticeably “happier”!) Studies have shown that the hens in a free-run environment produce less cortisol (a bi-product of stress) which ultimately impacts the flavor of the eggs that they produce.
Free-range hens must have access to the outdoors for the majority of the year, with a roost area for resting. Their feed can’t contain antibiotics or hormones, and the roosts must have at least two square feet per hen. The government does not regulate free-range egg farms, so you must trust the farmers. Some farmers call these eggs “antibiotic-free” or “naturally-raised.”
These eggs are produced by hens that have been raised from birth on organic feed that contains no hormones, pesticides or genetically modified organisms. They must have outdoor access year-round; when they are kept inside, they must be fed organic sprouted grains. They must also be allocated at least two square feet of floor space per bird.
After careful evaluation of all of the options available to us, we have decided to carry only locally-produced, free-run and organic eggs. We have toured the production facilities of our suppliers and have personally confirmed that the hens are humanely treated and are given the best possible care possible by the family farmers who raise them.