How to Buy Humane Eggs: What to Know, and What You Can Forget

Cage-free. Organic. Range-fed. Humane. We know the terms, and we see them on the labels of the egg cartons at the store. But can we trust them? And just what do they mean?

Luckily, there are two tips you can take to reduce your stress around which eggs are best for the environment, the chickens, and you.

First, we have to erase any trust we put into pictures of happy chickens and the meaningless terms like cage-free or organic scrawled on the cartons. These terms are too broad to trust at face value. When we read "cage-free" that might mean that the chickens are packed into one large hen-house and while not technically in cages, they aren't exactly living in humane, comfortable conditions. And when we read "organic," we can't be completely sure if that means the hens are raised without antibiotics, or if they were fed organic feed, or what.

So erase those, and keep your eye out for another label altogether, one that we can put just a touch more trust into.

The One Type of Label You Need to Know

When it comes to which designations to keep an eye out for, Ellen Kanner writes in "Cracking The Egg Label Code", "If you want to take a step back to the pure, bucolic life an egg evokes, the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) asks you to make a modest new year's resolution—switch from commercially raised eggs to buying those labeled "Certified Humane," "American Humane Certified," or "Animal Welfare Approved." This means your eggs came from chickens raised with care, not confined to battery cages and stuffed with weird growth hormones or antibiotics. And these three designations are verified and monitored by animal rights organizations. In other words, they have some oomph behind them, unlike popular claims like "cage-free," which does not."

We learned last year that most cage-free eggs come from producers who are certified humane. Nearly two-thirds, but not all. That's why we have to look for the label of the organizations that do the certifying, and not just the "cage free" wording.

Avoid Grocery Labels Altogether—Head to Farmers' Market!

One common argument against even these labels is that the certifying organizations are not strict enough. It's understandable considering "humane" is a fairly subjective topic. What methods might work best for churning out a quantity of eggs from the "humane" chicken farm might still not seem so humane to consumers with a conscience. So another option is to leave the grocery store altogether.

It might be expensive, but so very worth it to head down to farmers' market to get your eggs. Here's how Gregory Schaefer, our Organic A-Z chef describes his first experience buying fresh eggs from local farmers:

Conventional eggs have so many different labels on them, I can't keep track and I'm never really sure if those birds are free range or humanely raised or what.

One day it occurred to me, THEY SELL EGGS AT THE FARMER'S MARKET...the only place I feel really comfortable buying chickens from. Now that I've gone down that path, I'll never go back. The taste alone blew my palate and my mind!

I was shocked, totally, full on, flat out, caught with my pants down, surprised and amazed when I tasted my first farmer's market egg. It was like a whole new food.

WATCH VIDEO: "Why Organic Chicken?"

When it comes to good food, it's about quality, not quantity. When what we're eating tastes incredibly good, we are satisfied with less of it. So while you might be spending $5 to $6 for a dozen eggs, the environmental impact of fewer food miles and healthier ecosystems, the economic impact of helping your community members and participating in the local economy, and the impact on your gastronomical delight will all be well worth it.

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