If you think the periodic table is confusing, check out the egg carton labels at your local grocery store. So many words! So many symbols! And why do some boxes cost $ 2 a dozen and others $ 8?

If you are looking for the best choice in terms of chicken welfare and environmental sustainability, Look for eggs that are pasture or free range. and organic. These eggs cost you more, but they’re better for the farmers, the animals, and the planet. In the store we reach for Handsome Brook Farms, Vital Farms, Carol’s and Pete and Gerry’s. Or take a trip to the farmers’ market where you can ask the farmers about the chickens they came from and send your money straight to the source. The eggs are likely fresher too.

For more information on egg carton labels, see the list below, broken down by the terms to which the terms generally refer:

Human

Various third-party organizations put seals such as Certified Humane, American Humane Certified, and American Welfare Approved by AGW to indicate that a farm meets requirements for factors such as flake density and beak cut. It is important to remember that not all of these standards are created equal: they vary by organization and are set differently for cage-free, free-range, or pasture eggs. A more detailed understanding of what each seal means requires independent research.

Cage-free and free-range

Although these terms are regulated by the USDA, they are inconclusive and misleading. In general, they refer to eggs from chickens that live in open barns or warehouses rather than battery cages (as is the case with conventional eggs). Free-range birds have access to nature (often better than nothing), but the size and quality of this area is not dictated. Not cage-free.

Pastureland

Since this term is not regulated by the USDA, it means nothing unless it is also verified as humane by a third party organization (like the three listed above). In this case, it indicates the highest standard of space and welfare. Because so much space is required, these eggs are typically grown on smaller farms with fewer birds (e.g. 10,000 versus 250,000).

Organic certified

Don’t confuse this term with a stamp of human treatment. Like free range and roaming, the birds have unspecified access in the open air. The difference is that they are fed organic feed with no animal by-products, antibiotics, hormones or pesticides. For grazing birds, the land on which they graze must also meet ecological requirements.

Not genetically modified

The chickens are fed a diet that does not contain GMOs (but which is not necessarily organic).

Omega-3 enriched

All eggs contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in their yolks. However, these birds are fed supplements like flaxseed, fish oil, and alfalfa flour to increase these numbers.

Pasteurized

Pasteurization kills all harmful bacteria inside or outside the egg. This comes in handy for people who like to eat liquid or raw eggs (like Caesar dressing) but cannot risk a foodborne illness.

Natural, farm-fresh and vegetarian fed

Ignore this meaningless marketing jargon. “Vegetarian feed” is particularly tricky – chickens are natural omnivores (maggots and worms, delicious); If they are “vegetarian” they are likely locked up indoors.

Grade AA, A or B.

This relates to the appearance of the eggs – the higher the grade (AA is the highest), the more shapely and stain-free the egg, with firm white, yolk and clean shells.

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