Cage-Free vs Free-Range vs Organic Eggs

Cage-Free vs Free-Range vs Organic Eggs

It used to be that an egg was an egg was an egg.  The biggest question people had was whether brown eggs were superior to white eggs or vice versa.  This is no longer the case.  Due to increasing consumer demand for healthier, non-processed food created by humanely treated animals, there are now more alternatives to consider. 

Cage-Free

This label means that the hens are not raised in tightly confined cages.  Hen cages used to be a standard in big poultry processing farms until pictures started to surface of row after row of hens crammed tightly into them.  People got so upset that many big farms decided to change how they raise their hens. 

For something to be cage-free, it usually means that the hens live in a large barn and can move around.  Unfortunately, they may have very little access to sunlight and their beaks and wings could be clipped. 

Cage-free is not a regulated term, so the standards could vary widely from one farm to another.  In some barns, they may have quite a bit of room to move around and in others; they may be crammed in pretty tightly. 

Free-Range

Free-range eggs are usually produced by hens that at least have some access to sunlight.  What that means can be very different based upon the individual farm’s standards.  It could mean there’s a little door or patio that must be shared by thousands of hens in the barn, which means that very few actually see sunlight for any length of time. Or it could mean that the birds reside in outdoor pens with full access to sunlight all day long.  Hens could have their beaks and wings clipped to discourage fighting and pecking. 

There is no legal definition of free-range, but the industry standard is that there is some access to sunlight.  Farmers can make very different decisions on how to raise their hens and still use the same term. 

Organic

When it comes to eggs, organic is a term that means two things:  the hens are fed organic feed and the hens are not injected with hormones, antibiotics or vaccines.  In order for the feed to be considered organic, the grains must be grown on land that has been free from pesticides or fertilizers for a minimum of three years.

Although not a requirement, most organic eggs are usually cage-free as well.  But they could be clipped and unless they are also marked as free-range, they may not have access to sunlight. 

Organic is a legally-defined term by the USDA and very strict standards must be met in order to be able to use this term.  There is third party auditing to ensure farms continually meet these standards.  Farms certified as organic are continuously monitored. 

So which is best?

Because of the high strict standards that are associated with the organic label, this is usually well worth the extra cost.  However, there are people that prefer both organic and free-range eggs due to the sunlight factor.  It is almost always best to purchase eggs that are cage-free, free-range or organic over regular eggs.