I’ve been trying to eat more protein (doctor’s orders), so have been eating more eggs. Over Earth Day, I got reminded that while those “cage-free” eggs at the market might be cheaper than those at the farmer’s market, the healthier and more humane choice is “pasture-raised” eggs. I know my vegan friends would argue the most humane decision is to not eat eggs at all, but that diet doesn’t work for my body.
But like any labeling scheme, it is not as simple as that. According to Scrambled Eggs, the Cornucopia Institute’s latest report about eggs that came out late last year, some emerging brands advertise their eggs as “pastured” although their birds are “housed in fixed buildings -versus- the true gold standard in organic egg production: generally smaller flocks of poultry in portable hen houses which farmers rotate in fresh pasture, often-times daily.”
I was spending upwards of $10/dozen for eggs from happy chickens at my local market. At the farmer’s market in the Bay Area they are $7 to $9/dozen. After seeing some pictures of what the “cage-free” living conditions are like at a recent Earth Day fair (I’ll spare you the pictures), it was a reminder that if I choose to eat eggs and want to be consistent with my values, then I need to put my money where my mouth is.
The Cornucopia Institute created a handy egg scorecard that ranks the best producers. Producers in the top tier manage diverse, small to medium-scale family farms. They raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in ﬁxed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture. They sell eggs locally or regionally under their farm’s brand name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores (sometimes through larger chains like Whole Foods).
Here is a great chart from the Humane Society on how to decipher the labels on eggs. The challenge with even pasture-raised eggs is that the hens still come from hatcheries. As summarized by Civil Eats, “While many conscientious eaters go out of their way to purchase pasture-raised eggs laid by happy chickens, it’s a little-known fact that almost all eggs have a hidden cost: millions of baby male chicks are killed each year at the hatcheries that raise egg-laying hens. Even humane, organic egg producers are reliant on these large hatcheries.”
I recently had an interesting chat with a local farmer that sells eggs at my local farmer’s market. She confirmed the chick issue is a problem and explained that it is difficult to focus on raising hens for eggs and to hatch your own chicks. Not a simple dilemma to solve, unless you are ready to give up eating eggs.