Lately, we’ve been fielding questions about our eggs. Although it sounds a bit personal, what people are really wanting to know is how we classify the chicken eggs that we sell. There are also a lot of “buzz” words flying around out there, different labels and certifications, which are sometimes misunderstood by the public in general. Everyone wants to purchase eggs that are fresh and healthy, and also, many people are now trying to be conscious of the quality of life of the animals who are producing the food that we eat, but how can you tell what you’re getting? Do the labels help at all? What does “Organic” really mean??? How about “Cage Free”, or “Free Range”? I just thought we’d talk briefly about those terms and then about what we’re allowed to label the eggs that we sell.
Organic: Specifically, “organic” is a labeling term that can only be used by farms or companies who are certified by the USDA to be “organic”. We are not allowed to use this term in the labeling or marketing of the eggs that we sell, as we are – as yet – uncertified. Organic eggs are from uncaged hens that have been raised according to the USDA’s National Organic Program guidelines, meaning that they must be allowed free range of their houses, as well as outdoor access (although the amount of time outside isn’t specified). You may often see this label paired with “cage free” – which makes it redundant. These hens are also fed an organic diet consisting of feed that wasn’t treated with conventional pesticides or fertilizers. This is supposed to be one of the most trusted labels on our food today; however, there have been some changes to the USDA regulations that could be diluting the trustworthiness of this label. If you can wade through it, this is an informative article about the policy changes of 2013 from RealFarmacy.com – and there are others out there that speak about these changes and how they may affect the future of “organics”.
Cage Free: This is a label that, quite frankly, gives you limited information. “Cage Free” means that the eggs are produced by chickens who do not live in cages, but it gives you no other information about the chickens themselves. Technically, they just have to be allowed to roam free; they don’t have to have access to the outside, and they can still be packed into barns. I found this information from FACT (Food Animal Concerns Trust) helpful in understanding the “Cage Free” labeling. “However, because the cage-free label is not monitored or regulated by the federal government, cage free facilities vary greatly in terms of flooring, lighting, airflow, nesting facilities, and stocking density. In addition, this claim is not verified by an independent third party auditor which means there is not meaningful verification that the birds were, indeed, uncaged.” Also, there is no regulation of the type of feed these chickens are given and they are still allowed to have their beaks cut as chicks so that they don’t peck other chickens (which happens a lot when packed into barns). Cage Free eggs are no more nutritious than any other type of supermarket egg.
Free Range: Another limited information label. “Free Range” simply means the same as “Cage Free”, except they are supposed to have the opportunity to go outside. This label implies that the birds have free access to range and forage as they would in a barn-yard setting; however, the reality is that they may not have those opportunities, as “outside” may simply be on a cemented area and accessed through a very small door and that access may be limited in time. Also, the USDA applies “Free Range” only for those chickens intended to be used for meat, and NOT for laying hens. So there really isn’t any verification of the “Free Range” label for egg producers.
Nest Run: This is how we are allowed to label our eggs. “Nest Run” means that they are ungraded, unsized, and have not been through an egg washer. We are a registered “nest run” flock. This means we can sell up to 9000 eggs per year without having to be inspected by the USDA or Arizona Department of Agriculture. We do feed our chickens grain that is Non-GMO and Organic. They are allowed free access to the outside every day and forage for bugs and grass and seeds. We do keep them in a coop overnight to cut down on predation. We are not allowed to market our eggs as “organic” or “local” or “fresh” – but they are all of those. The eggs we sell are more fresh and more local than you can find in your super market or your local Food Co-op. If you are interested in learning more about what labels mean, here is a link to a great graphic from TakePart that explains the meanings behind some of the most common labels found on eggs.
I know this hasn’t been a typical post (and the graphics I’ve used are a bit snarky), but so many articles I read in Permaculture publications admonish us to inform our customers… so that’s what I’ve set out to do – and using humor helps, I hope. I also want to encourage you, wherever you are in the world, to purchase fresh eggs from your local farmers whenever possible. You will notice the difference immediately when you crack open an egg from a pastured chicken from a small local producer. Try it, and then let me know what you think. Until then, as always~
Thanks for reading!
Today’s Weather: Was rather nice, actually, although Sue said the wind really picked up late morning, as it is often want to do. High today was 75°, right now – at 7:10 – it is 60°; overnight low is predicted to be 44°. Sunset today was at 5:35, sunrise tomorrow will be around 7:20. I heard someone say it’s supposed to rain this week, but I haven’t seen anything about that on weather stations. We’ll see.
Egg report: Saturday was a low day: 1 duck (thank you faithful little duck) and 8 chicken eggs. Sunday was a little better with 1 duck (thank you again) and 10 chicken eggs. Today was a bit slow again- we only had 7 chicken eggs plus our 1 faithful duck.