A Guide to Understanding the Labels on Egg Cartons

Egg Labeling Misconceptions

EGG LABELING 101

A Guide to Understanding the Labels on Egg Cartons

When we are shopping at the grocery store, we are determined to find the best quality products with the best prices. Manufacturers have found many clever ways to influence us to buy their product. The use of colorful and captivating fonts and colors on their packaging, and slapping promising labels on their product makes it difficult to know which one to choose! Buying a simple carton of eggs has gotten more complicated over the years with an overwhelming abundance of labeling that seem to scream “choose me!” The problem is that a lot of the words on labels we see are incredibly misleading, and may not mean what we think. Labels found on egg cartons can have many definitions, leaving us to interpret the labels the best we can. The labels can refer to the hens living conditions, their diet, or even how the hens are cared for by the producer. Here’s the ultimate guide to understanding the different labels on egg cartons, so you can confidently choose what eggs you want in your home.

Certified Humane: Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care. The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but there is no requirement or information on if they are able to go outdoors. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing.

Certified Organic: Eggs that are labeled as Certified Organic are under the authority of the USDA’s National Organic Program. The hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and are required to have outdoor access. They are fed organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides.

Cage Free: Cage free implies hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but generally do not have access to the outdoors. They have the ability to engage in some of their natural behaviors such as walking and nesting. There is no information regarding what the birds can be fed.

Free Range: Free range egg-laying hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have outdoor access. They can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. The USDA gives no information on stocking density, the frequency of outdoor access, and information on the bird's diets.

Pasteurized: All egg products sold in the US are pasteurized. This label means that eggs are heated to temperatures just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens and diseases like Salmonella. This label created by the USDA gives no information on the overall treatment of the hens or their diet.

Pasture Raised: There is no uniform standard for pasture-raised labeled eggs which are produced on farms where hens have some access to the outdoors, with no indication of whether or not the hens engage in nesting and foraging.

Animal Welfare Approved: The Animal Welfare program created a label with the objective to improve animal rights and reducing unfair practices, by prohibiting practices such as beak trimming. The hens have access to pastures and the outdoors but do not have any information on their diet.

Omega-3 Enriched: There is no information on whether or not the producers used inhuman practices like beak trimming, or if the hens had access to outdoors. Omega 3-Enriched egg labels simply means that the hens were raised on a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

American Humane Certified: The American Humane Certified label signified eggs are produced following the animal welfare standards for either cage-free, free-range, pasture raised environments. Beak trimming is allowed only if there is a concern about cannibalism within the birds. No information is given on the hen's diets.

Vegetarian-Fed: These birds are provided a more natural feed than that received by most laying hens, but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions. This practice is controversial because chickens are not naturally vegetarian.

United Egg Producers Certified: The United Egg Producers created a label that means that the producers have met most of the requirements and standards developed by the UEP, a cooperative trade group for egg producers. The hens must be given enough space to stand upward. However, this label does not require the hens to move freely, perch, forage, and nest.

Thinking beyond the label is a common conversation in our community at TestSharing. Unfortunately, egg labeling is commonly used to mislead consumers into buying the manufacturer's product. The government systems set in place to regulate these labels have no fixed meaning, and consumers are meant to figure out what each label means on our own. Egg color, its grade, size, feed, and the use of hormones are all factors that contribute to egg quality. Read more about egg quality myths and measures here. Being informed about the labels you see in the grocery store will help you avoid confusion, and assist you in making the best choice on what eggs to bring into your home.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4