Have you ever bought eggs from the grocery store and wondered where they actually came from? Well, did you know that roughly 98% of all eggs that are being purchased in the U.S.—like those hard-boiled eggs sitting in front of you at the breakfast table right now—come from battery cage hens? Shocking, right? These are not free-range egg-laying hens where you see them walking around picturesque farms. Instead, think of a distinct lack of animal welfare. Picture rows and rows of the smallest, most confining cages you can imagine, with the hens not even having enough room to spread their wings. This is where these poor creatures have to live their entire lives, and where they lay their eggs. Although cage-free hens are raised in slightly better conditions, they are often subjected to the same cruelty as battery cage hens. So, the question is, where should you be purchasing your eggs from? Let’s take a look at some of your best options.
When in doubt, always, always, always try to buy your eggs from farmers markets—but ask questions. Although there is a much better chance that the hens are being treated in a humane way, you want to ask the farmers selling them to you some basic questions, such as what they hens are fed and whether or not they are pastured. It is also beneficial to ask whether or not the eggs have been washed. Fun fact: unwashed eggs are less prone to contamination due to a "bloom” that is naturally on the eggs. This also means that they can last about a month without being refrigerated. Buying eggs from farmers markets are also a bonus because you are supporting local farmers, which supports your local community. OK, so these are going to be slightly more expensive eggs, but large eggs with perfectly yellow yolks are great, and knowing they came from happy hens is even better.
If we cannot convince you to shop for eggs at your local farmers market every time, look for organic eggs in your local supermarket. Look for the USDA Organic seal—this means that the hens were kept and raised under strict USDA guidelines. These guidelines include that egg producers must give the hens ample access to the outdoors and sunlight, feed them only organic and non-GMO feed, and give them adequate preventive health care.
Again, if you cannot buy your eggs directly from your local farmer, look for pasture-raised eggs. Organic does not equal pasture-raised or free-range, so carefully read the label and do research on the company you are buying your eggs from. If an egg is "pastured” that hopefully means that the hens that the eggs are coming from have been living a good life. In other words, they get to walk around freely, they spend their days with other hens and chickens pecking for food, and they have a shelter to sleep in at night. It is certainly not ideal to support any company who does not believe in the welfare of the hens they are making their income from, so be sure and opt for organic, pasture-raised eggs if you are buying from the supermarket.
As you can see, there are certainly quite a few issues to think about when purchasing eggs for you and your family’s consumption. Opting to support only farmers markets and/or purchasing organic, pasture-raised eggs is certainly the only option I want to be supporting!