There is no question that eggs are a delicious, nutritious, and highly versatile source of protein and healthy fats. A staple of many baking recipes, and a favourite breakfast for many Canadians.
Unfortunately, up to 98% of conventionally harvested eggs come from chickens that are raised in extremely unethical conditions (confined to cages, no natural light, no exercise etc.). Furthermore, due to these poor conditions, the eggs laid by these chickens may have a negative impact on our health due to excessive antibiotic use and low quality feed being used.
So what can you do?
We created this “egg buying guide” to teach you about the different ways that chickens are raised so you can make an informed decision the next time you purchase eggs. The ultimate goal is to support farms that raise happy, healthy chickens that produce the most nutritious eggs.
What’s on the Label?
Cage Free / Free Run
When you see the term “cage free” on the label, it simply means that the chickens are raised in an open barn or shed and are not confined to cages.
The problem: Unregulated, chickens may be overcrowded, no outdoor exposure, no natural light.
The verdict: Although better than conventionally harvested eggs from chickens that are confined to small cages, “cage free” eggs are not the best choice from an animal welfare standpoint.
Eggs that are labeled “free range” come from chickens that are able to roam, and have at least some access to outdoors.
The problem: Unregulated, no way of knowing the amount of outdoor exposure, environmental conditions etc.
The verdict: Free range eggs are a good choice assuming that the the chickens are raised in an ethical environment, consume natural feed, and are antibiotic-free. Do your due diligence before purchasing.
Eggs with the “omega-3” label come from chickens that are fed flaxseeds or other types of feed that is high in omega-3 fatty acids.
The problem: Chickens that are fed diets high in omega-3 fatty acids may still be raised in unethical conditions (caged) and may contain antibiotics.
The verdict: Eggs that contain omega-3 fatty acids have a positive impact on our cardiovascular health, however, due diligence is necessary before purchasing.
Eggs that are labeled ” certified organic” are regulated by third-party organizations that have specific standards when it comes to the living conditions of the chickens. They are also given organic feed, and are not administered antibiotics on a regular basis.
Which Egg is the Best Choice?
In Canada, free range certified organic eggs are the best option (most of the time) from both a health, and animal welfare perspective.
Rabbit River Farms in British Columbia is an excellent example of the type of farm you should be supporting if you choose to consume eggs.
“The birds are free range, meaning that weather permitting, they have on average eight hours a day of access to the outdoors, an area that totals six acres. Canada’s federal organic standard also stipulates that the hens are free to range, nest, roost, dust bathe and socialize.
The hens are fed non-GMO organic vegetarian grain, plus ground flax seed and vitamin E to enhance the omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidant content of the eggs they lay.”
Going the extra mile…
Those of you that are willing to put in a little extra legwork might be able to find some smaller local farms that produce great eggs from “happy” chickens that are raised in a more natural free range environment. Your best bet would be to visit farms in person, and have a close look at the operation by visiting the farm in person. Find out what the birds are fed, how much time they are allowed outside, how much room they have inside etc.
Putting it All Together
Avoiding eggs that come caged eggs is the right thing to do. Take the effort to find a farm that raises chickens in an ethical, natural environment. Not only will these chickens produce the most nutritious eggs, you will also get peace of mind knowing that the chickens are treated fairly.
Although the cost of these types of eggs is higher than eggs from caged chickens, we believe that the added expense is well worth it.
More Egg Resources
Chicken Out! (www.chickenout.ca) – A website developed by the Vancouver, BC humane society. Lots of helpful information about the different methods of raising chickens, quality of eggs, etc. They also offer this PDF that outlines the criteria used by third party certification programs.
BC Living (www.bcliving.ca) – “The Search for a Happy Egg”
Mark’s Daily Apple (www.marksdailyapple.com) – Mark Sisson gives his 2 cents on how to find the healthiest eggs. Some good comments from other readers on this post as well.
Did you find this egg buying guide helpful? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!