What does “cage-free” mean? Here’s how to pick the right eggs for you:
Cage Free. Organic. Free-range. Hand-gathered. All-natural. Antibiotic-free. Hormone-free. No hormones added. Vegetarian-fed. Pasteurized. Grade AA. Jumbo. So many labels for eggs! But, what do they mean?
In the United States, some labels are required by law, some have specific guidelines for use, and others are left to the judgment of the producers and marketers.
There are various production practices in U.S. egg production that affect how cartons can be labeled. Here are few popular ones:
- Pastured: Chickens are free to roam about on a maintained pasture area. Their diets may be supplemented by grain, in addition to existing vegetation.
- Free range: In this method, chickens have access to an outside enclosure, though there would also be a building for them to take shelter. Free range chickens have continuous access to food and water, and would also be able to forage for food outside. These chickens have floor space, nesting space and perches.
- Cage-free: This usually means that the chickens are enclosed in a building but can freely move about. These chickens have floor space, nesting space and perches, and oftentimes have automated feeding and egg collection systems.
- Caged: This is a practice that many farmers use because of the lower risk of disease and injuries associated with smaller groups of chickens. This form also allows better working conditions and a lower cost of production due to the increased amount of chickens that can be housed in the same space.
“No Hormones Added” and “Antibiotic Free” are two additional labels often listed on cartons. However, they are irrelevant, because according to the USDA, no producer may use hormones, and all eggs for sale are free of antibiotics. So you can be confident that whether the label is there or not, no added hormones or antibiotic residue are in your morning omelet.
Have more questions? Definitions of most labels found on egg cartons may be found on the Egg Labeling Guide
provided by the Egg Nutrition Center overseen by the USDA.
Tessa Chambers is a Public Affairs Representative at Dow AgroSciences who has been passionate about agriculture and communicating her whole life. After interning at Dow AgroSciences last summer, she was excited to come back in January upon her graduation from the University of Missouri in December of 2016!