|image credit: Cooking Light|
As a pescetarian, I sometimes think of myself as a swimming lacto-ovo vegetarian. I'm still eating fish, eggs and diary so I've been trying to continue to educate myself on these animal based products. While at the grocer a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time in the egg department. There are so many options! Cage Free, Vegetarian, Organic.... on and on! I couldn't sort out what they all meant. I knew that 'cage-free' was pretty good... so I thought. I ended up choosing the standard, store-brand, grade A, large eggs. I really didn't know any better, or worse, so I stuck with what I always buy.
Coincidentally, in a recent purging day where I sorted through past issues of magazines and kept only what I needed/wanted, I came across a full article in Cooking Light (July 2009) magazine that explains the egg labels. I was so excited! We've touched on the food label subject a little bit previously, but I was so glad to find something more regarding eggs. Below is a brief description and reference for various labels you might find on egg cartons.
Here's the breakdown of what I think are the good ones:
USDA Organic - Meets the USDA's standards for Organic foods - birds must be cage free with outdoor access, no antibiotics given to birds or in food and must have vegetarian diet. (more info here: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop)
Certified Humane Raised & Handled - This non-profit organization is audited by the USDA and endorsed by many animal welfare groups. Requires independent verification of proper treatment of animals. (more info here: http://www.certifiedhumane.org/)
Animal Welfare Approved - program audits and certifies family farms that utilize high-welfare methods of farming, on pasture or range. This program is applicable to smaller egg producers so it may not be that prevalent in the local big box grocery, but look for it at farmers markets and specialty groceries (more info here: http://www.animalwelfareapproved.org/)
Here are some 'certifications' that do not, in my opinion, seem to hold much clout:
The ones we have covered before and a few other labels that are thrown out there are:
And a couple others that you (and I) might think are awesome, but are not.
United Egg Producers Certified - According to NYU, this certification is gained by nearly 80% of all egg producers. It only means that the caged hens are allowed water and food. I don't think that is saying a whole lot.
Cage Free - Chickens must be out of cages with continuous access to food and water, but they may not be allowed outdoors. This one is pretty much meaningless, too.
There are several more articles available from the July 2009 issue of Cooking Light about eggs including how to save on purchasing eggs (which, again, in my opinion, might compromise the health / ethical goals of using the able labels) and several reasons to use eggs and what they do as well as a bunch of recipes.