This information comes from Dr. Ronda Nelson, a nutritionist in California. I have been attending her seminars for the last few years.
Buying eggs has become a complex process. There are ever increasing options at the grocery store and the creative marketing is designed to entice the buyer, rather than inform. Every style claims to be the healthiest and best tasting. However, as we have often seen in the health food world, legal loopholes, lack of accountability by government agencies and corporate profits often determine the final quality of what we buy.
The “specialty egg” market (vegetarian, cage-free, organic, omega-3, etc.) is seeing incredible gains in the marketplace. Existing egg production companies want to cash-in on their profits and many of them have figured out ways to do so without really changing their production methods.
Organic eggs are produced in one of four basic ways. Although each operating and production style has various interpretations of the organic standards, all are labeled and sold as “organic.”
- Pasture-raised – portable houses are rotated around so chickens can forage on new pastures and obtain vegetation, worms, and insects which allows them to exhibit natural and instinctive behaviors. This is the gold standard but unfortunately, very few farms maintain this type of operation.
- Enhanced outdoor access – hens live in houses and have ready access to large pastures. Roughly 60-70% of these birds can be found outdoors at any given time.
- Fixed housing – hens are provided with smaller outdoor runs ranging from just 1 to 10 square feet per bird. Most operations provide the minimum space possible. Less than 10% of the birds ever see the outdoors. When more birds are encouraged to go outside, the area can be picked clean in a matter of minutes leaving raw earth with bird droppings on top.
- Industrial scale – large flocks of up to 150,000 hens per barn are housed in multi-tiered cages. The chickens are given processed organic feed as their sole source of food. The growers abstain from giving the birds prohibited chemicals like antibiotics. They are allowed access to a small scratching area on the floor of the barn so they can be called “cage-free.” Approximately 80% of organic retail eggs sales are from this type of industrial farm.
Fortunately, the Cornucopia Institute has produced an “Organic Egg Scorecard” that you can view at Cornucopia.org. They also have well written research on the egg industry available for download at this site.
The Bottom Line:
Eggs are a great food, with lots of protein, heathy fats and micronutrients. Two eggs for breakfast provide 15 grams of protein, enough to “break your fast” from sleeping and start your day. Make your first meal of the day as healthy as possible.