If you are anything like me, you walk into a grocery store with a general idea of what you want to buy. I normally walk into the produce section first. I like produce, it’s incredibly straight forward. If I want to buy organic or regular apples, I look for the colour that I like and I pick my apples. If I want to buy organic or regular lettuce, I walk up to the type of lettuce that I like and I pick my lettuce. Dairy is only a little bit more complicated. While I still have the option of organic or not, I now have different fat percentages to choose from. Another choice, but still pretty straight forward.
Have you ever noticed that the more you venture into the depths of the grocery store, the more intense your choices become? Whenever my chickens go on a laying strike and I have to shop for eggs, I am always hit by my first roadblock in my grocery shopping undertaking. The number of labels on the egg cartons in this section are astounding. And I say this as a farmer who is pretty well versed in what each label means. Let’s take a look at what some of these designations mean.
One of the most common egg labels is ‘Free Run’. This usually means that the hens were not caged within the barn that they were raised. They are usually in fairly crowded conditions, but they are not contained. They are not however given access to the outdoors.
Another very common label found on egg cartons is ‘Free Range’, much like ‘Free Run’ eggs, these chickens are not caged. In addition to not being caged, these hens have access to an outdoor run in warm weather. This does not necessarily mean that the hens will use this door, but the option is there.
The next label that we’ll have a look at is ‘Organic’. This is one of the most regulated labels, as farms with the organic label are required to be audited on a yearly basis. To be qualified as an organic egg farmer in Canada, your hens must have substantial access to the outdoors, eat organic certified feed, be provided nesting boxes, dust bathing areas and adhere to the minimum space requirement set by the Canadian Organic governing body.
The last label that we will look at is ‘Pastured’. Pastured chickens tend to be raised on smaller farms. These eggs might be more expensive, but the nutritional value will be higher than most conventional eggs. This is due to both the sunlight and the nutrition that the chickens receive from eating green grass and bugs as they spend the majority of their days outside on lush pastures.
While I know that the egg section of the grocery store is just one small part of the whole, this is by far one of the most difficult sections to navigate when it comes to labels. In the end I definitely recommend finding a local farmer that truly ‘free ranges’ their chickens. I hope though that I have shed some light on this difficult subject for when that farmer is more like a unicorn and difficult to find.