The Science of Sustainability

Quest for a Kind Egg

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Yep, I love eggs: scrambled, poached, deviled, fried, boiled, and my favorite, egg in a basket. They are the perfect breakfast or power-ball snack. I also love the idea of purchasing eggs from farms that raise them with kindness and humanity, and that has proven a bit challenging. There are many terms to decipher, but armed with correct information, we can all help chickens and still enjoy those eggs. The following chart gives information about a few local farms and is thanks to my favorite place to grocery shop, Rainbow Grocery.

 

Rock Island Judy's Family Farm Uncle Eddies Chino Valley Organic Valley Clover Clover Organic Marin Sun Farms Eatwell Farms Clark Summit
Organic Feed no yes no yes yes no yes yes yes yes
Hormones, Antibiotics & other additives in chicken feed no no no no no no no no no no
Kept in Cages no no no no no no no no no no
Have access to outside no no no yes yes no no yes yes yes
Beaks clipped yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no no no
Forced molted no no no no no no no no no no

Organic Fed / Certified Organic

All organic eggs are certified by the USDA. Organic eggs come from hens whose feed is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and commercial fertilizers. Organic chicken feed contains no animal byproducts and the hens have never been given antibiotics.

Hormones and Antibiotics:

The FDA banned the use of hormones – most notably diethylstilbestrol, or DES – in poultry in 1959, after they not only caused tragic health problems in consumers but also failed to stimulate growth in chickens. "Hormone free" is a misleading bit of marketing that suggests other egg producers are illegally dosing their birds.

Kept in Cages

Some hens are kept in battery cages; enclosures so small the animals can't spread their wings. Battery caged hens are crammed as many as six chickens into a cage at a time, leaving each bird with less personal space than a sheet of ordinary notebook paper. Critics say the battery system causes the spread of disease, requires the painful de-beaking of birds, and restricts natural bird behaviors, such as dusting or nesting.

Have Access to Outside

"Free Range" and "Free Roaming" are terms that bring to mind idyllic barnyard scenes. These labels, which are regulated by the USDA, may be used by a producer if their hens are allowed some access to the outdoors. This does not guarantee constant access, nor is there any specification of the size of the outdoor area (which is, of course, a penned area, not a range).

Beaks Clipped

Also known as debeaking, or beak trimming, is a process by which parts of the beak of a chicken or turkey are trimmed. Many variations of debeaking are used. Most commonly, the beak is shortened permanently, with the lower beak somewhat longer than the upper beak. The goal of this is to reduce cannibalism in stressed-out bird populations, such as in crowded egg-laying hen houses.

Forced Molted

When light and temperature are manipulated so hens lay eggs more than normal.

Omega-3 enriched

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid considered crucial by some for developing brains and preventing heart disease and depression. Farmers boost the omega-3 content of their hens' eggs by adding ground flaxseed, algae, or even fish oil to the birds' feed.

My own kind choice is to stay informed, shop at the local farmers' market and ask questions, and someday, raise my own.

If you have any tips or insights into local egg farms, please do share!

For more egg carton terms, go to:

http://blog.pennlive.com/naturalliving/2007/06/eggs.html

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.

 

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Category: Biology, Environment, Health, Partners, Sustainable Food, Sustainable Health

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Amy Gotliffe

About the Author ()

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at the Oakland Zoo. She is a Detroit transplant, enjoying the good Bay Area life for 17 years. She has a degree in communications, holds several teaching credentials and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. She has worked at various Bay Area educational and environmental institutions, teaching second grade, working on campaigns, planting pollinator gardens, producing earth day events and generally spreading the word about wildlife and green living. She currently works at The Oakland Zoo where she serves as the Conservation Manager. There, she coordinates support for international, national and local conservation efforts, produces a Conservation Speaker Series, produces the zoo's Earth Day event, leads eco-trips, teaches the various educational programs and heads up an on-site Green Team. On her list of other passions are travel, photography, music and the lindy hop. :-)
  • tamara

    If hens have ample time outdoors in the idyllic barnyard sense of running around a sizable area, scratching and pecking for insects (which is what normal outdoor-ranging chickens do), then their food supply is somewhat uncontrolled… do their eggs still qualify as organic?

  • http://www.homeenergy.org Jim Gunshinan

    Hi Amy,

    My niece, Adrianne, who lives in Danville, just brought home a hen from school. Now we have dreams of fresh eggs warm from the chicken every morning! A bit premature, but we'd know good quality eggs.

    I was on retreat once at a Trappist monastery in Colorado. My chore for the first few days? Shoveling chicken poop. The eggs were the best I ever had though, and more than enough compensation for the messy work.

  • http://www.oaklandzoo.org amy gotliffe

    Tamara:
    This information is from Horizon Farms:)

    A set of federal guidelines for organic production, called The National Organic Program, was released by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), on October 21, 2002 under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    All agricultural products labeled 'organic' have to be in compliance with these guidelines.

    A grower or processor that is certified organic must meet or exceed all regulations, including:

    Organic farms must:
    Use organic or untreated seeds and apply no prohibited materials for 3 years prior to certification.
    Implement Organic Plans with proactive soil building, conservation, nutrient management, pest management and crop rotation systems.
    Organic livestock operations must:
    Provide outdoor access for all animals and pasture for ruminants.
    Use 100% organic feed.
    Not use antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs
    Organic processing operations must:
    Not use ingredients that are genetically engineered, grown with the use of sewage sludge, GMOs, irradiated or produced with volatile synthetic solvents.

    Products cannot be labeled "organic" that have not actually been certified, so look for the USDA seal on products labeled 'organic'—it's your way of knowing that the products you are buying are truly organic.

  • Sindi

    Amy,
    Thanks for the data. FYI, the omega-3 gives chickens 'fatty liver syndrome'. You could put that on your list too.
    Thanks,
    Sindi

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  • Sarah

    Another thing to consider is what happens to the chickens after they are no longer able to lay eggs.

    Does anyone have any information on this? I'd like to buy eggs from a company that truly respects its chickens.

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