Are they really superior and how do yours rate?
Eggs can be a nutritious part of your diet, full of high-quality protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. They also contain carotenoids, which help reduce macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults. They also contain choline, which helps improve memory. However, not all eggs are created equal.
The Cornucopia Institute supports local, organic foods by using research to educate farmers and consumers. Their website contains a rating system for most egg brands from one to five, five being the highest quality. Egg companies receiving a rating of five come from small farms with lots of pasture for chickens to roam and most eggs are sold locally. Vital Farms is an example of a company with a rating of five and can be found at Harry’s for $5.99 a dozen. Organic Valley has a rating of three because their chickens have outdoor space and are able to roam. Organic Valley are available at Whole Foods for $4.99 a dozen. The Country Hen, also available at Whole Foods, only made a rating of two because of their lack of openness about how their chickens are cared for and how their eggs are produced.
Eggs that received a rating of one are produced under large industrial operations and chickens don’t receive outdoor access. Every producer listed in this category refused to participate in the research done at The Cornucopia Institute, disturbing consumers and only validating their unethical procedures. The brands falling in this category include Eggland’s Best, Land O’Lakes, Egg Innovations, Horizon Organic, 365 Organic (Whole Foods Brand), Great Value (Wal-Mart Brand) and Trader Joe’s Brand.
It is estimated that 90-99% of store-bought eggs come from hens that have living space the size of a sheet of paper. This results in filthy conditions increasing the stress levels of the hens. Chickens are meant to peck in the ground and cages eliminate this natural behavior. This causes them to become violent and peck each other to death, so the industry decided to ‘debeak’ them. Their toes and claws are also cut off so they don’t get tangled in the wire cages. In Great Britain a process called ‘forced molting’ has been banned for almost three decades, but is still allowed in the US. Forced molting is when hens are starved for up to two weeks and denied water for up to three days, causing the hens feathers to fall out and they begin new laying cycles. This increases the amount of eggs produced. This cruel and unnatural process weakens the hen’s immune systems, which makes them more susceptible to salmonella bacteria that can be passed onto humans.
What does free-range mean anyway? As long as hens have an open door to the outside, regardless of whether they ever see the outside, defines free-range. How about cage-free? Just because the chickens may not be in a cage, does not mean they aren’t cramped in a barn with thousands, sometimes millions, of other chickens with no sunlight and no place to roam.
Are organic pasture-raised eggs really healthier and more nutritious? Mother Earth News tested eggs from pasture raised hens to find that the eggs contained two times more omega-3’s, three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta-carotene, 2/3 more vitamin A, 1/4 less saturated fat and 1/3 less cholesterol.
Conventional eggs come from hens fed genetically modified grains and soy and synthetic vitamins. Although hormones are not given to poultry, they are pumped full of antibiotics.
Many egg companies wash their eggs in mineral oil, a derivative of petroleum. They may also be washed in lye or chlorine. Eggshells have a semi-permeable membrane so chemicals are able to seep through. This procedure is done to prepare eggs for long distance transportation or storage and is another reason buying local is better.
So what is a consumer to do? Organic is important because the hens weren’t given antibiotics or fed genetically modified products. However, not all organic brands are created equal. Consumers may be paying $3.99 for 365 Organic Whole Foods brand, when they could go to Wal-Mart and pay half the price for about the same quality. Organic, pasture-raised is best, because it ensures the hens have open space to forage and are not fed grains. Try and buy from a local farmer to cut out long-distance transportation. Visit www.eatwild.com to find a farm in Georgia that offers eggs from pasture-raised hens. If you have a yard you can always raise your own chickens.
Visit www.cornucopia.org to rate your favorite brand of eggs.