Organic Eggs: Do Your Eggs Make the Grade?

 

An increasing number of shoppers want their eggs to come from farms who abide by the highest organic standards.  Consumers buy organic food because they want the safest and most nutritious food.  They want to support an environmental ethic and they are looking for farms with a more humane animal husbandry model.  And usually those consumers are willing to pay a higher price to get those things.  So when they find out that their organic eggs are coming from factory hen houses with 80,000 chickens that never see the light of day they feel duped.

Organic Valley Chickens

This hen house in Wisconsin provides no outdoor access or natural light. They raise birds for Organic Valley.
Photo Credit: The Cornucopia Insitutue

Corporate agribusiness factory farms are taking over the organic egg industry.  According to The Cornucopia Institute, 80% of the organic egg market is now controlled by large corporate egg operations.  These factory farms comply with the minimum organic standards often providing  their chickens with no or next to no outdoor access.  These birds are missing the opportunity to roam outdoors in the natural light and cannot access the nutrients they would otherwise get by foraging for insects and grass.  This places family scale farmers who are abiding by the standards at a competitive disadvantage.

The highest standard in organic egg production is the pasture based poultry producers where birds are rotated to different sections of pasture allowing the grass to rest and regrow.  Studies show that eggs from pastured hens show higher levels of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.  These eggs are not only nutritionally superior, they are also superior in terms of flavor.

 

Where to buy eggs?

A great place to find pasture raised eggs is your local farmers market.  In fact there are many great reasons to buy eggs at farmers market.

What about store-bought eggs?  In 2010, The Cornucopia Institute rated organic egg producers and published a scorecard rating farms on a scale of 1 egg (ethically deficient – industrial organics/no meaningful outdoor access and/or none were open to participate) to 5 eggs (exemplary – beyond organic).  For the complete list of ratings take a look at The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard.

Alexandre Eco Dairy Chickens

Pasture raised hens at Alexandre EcoDairy in California.
Photo Credit: Alexandre EcoDairy, CA

Who made the grade?

Here are a few of the farms who received top honors with a 5 egg rating:

Who didn’t make the grade?

Here are a few of the farms who received a 1 egg rating:

  • Chino Valley Ranchers (30 states including California)
  • Eggland’s Best (nationwide)
  • Judy’s Family Farm/Petaluma Farm (west coast)
  • Horizon Organic (nationwide)
  • Private Label (e.g., 365 Organic/Whole Foods, Archer Farms/Target, Kirkland/Costco, Trader Joe’s) – the vast majority of organic eggs for private labels are produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access

For the entire list of ratings be sure to check out the complete scorecard.

Egg Rating Criteria

The Cornucopia Institute’s ratings were based on the following criteria:

  • Ownership Structure – family farm would earn more points than an investor-owned, public corporation
  • Organic Certifying Agency – certifying agencies that require adequate outdoor space earn more points than agencies who do not require pasture or access to the outdoors
  • Egg Supply – eggs produced on single family farms earn more points than eggs from factory farms
  • Disclosure – more points received for full and open disclosure
  • Commitment to Organics – farms exclusively producing organic eggs earn more points than split operations producing both organic and conventional caged eggs
  • Single or Double Story – henhouses that are single story earn more points than double story which are designed for maximum production and limit access to outdoor space
  • Outdoor Space – more square feet per bird earn more points than fewer square feet or no outdoor access
  • Popholes/Exit to Outdoors – Birds kept on rotated pasture with at least 1 large door for less than 500 birds earn the most points with less points given for fewer doors per birds.
  • Outdoor Space Exemptions – Year-round outdoor access earns more points than seasonal confinement
  • Opportunity for Birds to be Outside Simultaneously – Greater number of points awarded the more birds that can be outside at one time
  • Rotation of Outdoor Space – Consistently rotated pasture earns the most points, minimal or no rotation earns less points, no outdoor access earns the least amount of points
  • Outdoor Vegetation – Pasture earns more points than dirt, concrete, wood which earn more than no outdoor access
  • Indoor Space Per Bird – More space, more points
  • Indoor Enrichment – More perches and scratching areas, more points
  • Natural Light – Outdoor access receives the most points with less points for indoor natural light and even fewer points for artificial light
  • Other Animals – Pasture rotated with other livestock earns more points than no other animals or no pasture
  • Cycling of Nutrients – Recycled manure earns the most points, manure composted and sold earns the least
  • Feed Produced on Farm – Feed produced on the farm earns the most points, points decrease for amount of food purchased from outside suppliers
  • Replacement Stock – Greatest number of points for farms that raise their own chicks, fewer points for farms who purchase chicks from outside farms
  • Laying Hen Lifespan – Greatest number of points for farms with hens who live a full life and die a natural death, fewer points for hens that live 3 or fewer years
  • Beak Trimming – Most points for no beak trimming, fewer points for beak trimming on chicks, fewest points for beak trimming on older chickens
  • Farm Support – More points for farms with owners who live and work on-site, fewer points with decreasing owner involvement

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