How do you like your eggs? Fried, scrambled, boiled, poached? Have you ever stopped to think about where your eggs come from and how long they take to get to you – are they the product of chickens who never know the simple joy of scratching in the soil for a juicy worm or pecking at a blade of grass? We humans like to close our eyes to these facts because if we dwell on them – who is going to eat another egg?
There are more than 280 million egg laying hens in the U.S. confined in battery cages — small wire cages stacked in tiers and lined up in rows inside huge warehouses. In accordance with the USDA’s recommendation to give each hen four inches of ‘feeder space,’ hens are commonly packed four to a cage measuring just 16 inches wide. In this tiny space, the birds cannot stretch their wings or legs, and they cannot fulfill normal behavioral patterns or social needs. Constantly rubbing against the wire cages, they suffer from severe feather loss, and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions.
The comparison between conventional battery-raised eggs and free ranges eggs is stunning. Mother Earth News had free ranges eggs tested to see what their nutrient levels are and compared the results to the official USDA data for commercial eggs.
The results varied from farm to farm, but the average free range egg results showed:
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 21 times more omega-3 fatty acid
Keep in mind that these eggs were from hens that Mother Earth News considers legitimately free range. They spend all or most of their lives outdoors, roosting in trees if they choose. This is not what is usually meant by free range eggs in supermarkets. Usually, those eggs are from chickens that can hardly be distinguished from battery-raised ones.
The requirements for the free range label are laughable, with only limited access to the outdoors—and that does not mean pasture—and often nearly as crowded as those labeled battery-raised. As often as not, the outdoors that supermarket “free range” birds see has no grass, but only concrete under their feet, and no real space to roam. Don’t be fooled by the egg industry’s double-speak definitions of what organic and free-range really is. True free-range eggs are from hens that walk about freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
The good news here is that you can still depend on your small, local farmer to produce some of the best food on earth.