Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eggs: Free Range, Organic, Free Run.... What does it all mean?

One of these eggs is free range, the other is organic. Can you guess which is which? Or, do you know the difference? Maybe you think my orange yolk came from some kind of mutant chicken? Well, if mutant means "healthy", or "normal", or even "as nature intended" then you're right. Eggs shouldn't be pale yellow at all, right?

Organic eggs are subject to different certification standards than Free Range eggs are. The Free Range Eggs below, Country Golden Yolks come from chickens that are allowed outside unless the weather is too "severe".

The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals:

The Canadian organic industry, in general, has been growing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent annually for the past decade with approximately 3,670 certified organic farms in 2004. Eggs are one type of organic product.

As a result of pressure from trading partners, including the European Union and the United States, Canada has developed Canada’s National Organic Standard, developed by the Canadian General Standards Board. The standards are being phased in currently. The standards for animals cover feed, transport and handling, health care, living conditions, stocking rates, etc. Operators are to provide animals with access to the outdoors, shade, rotational pasture, exercise areas, fresh air and natural daylight suitable to the species, the stage of production, the climate and environment, and opportunity to express normal patterns of behaviour.

Currently, only British Columbia and Quebec have regulations in place governing organic production systems. For the remaining provinces, voluntary systems are relied upon.

Organic products must meet the requirements set out in the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act, the Food and Drugs Act, and all other applicable legislation.

Toronto Vegetarian Association:

Free Range
Generally speaking, free range eggs come from chickens who have some access to the outside, but how much access? The U.S. regulates the use of the term on chicken (meat) but not on eggs, and doesn't stipulate how much outdoor time is required. Canada regulates neither. No other criteria, such as environmental quality, size of the outside area, number of birds, or space per bird, are included in this term. Typically, free-range hens are debeaked at the hatchery, and have only 1 to 2 square feet of floor space per bird. The birds may or may not have litter and access to nests and perches.

Free Run (or Cage-Free)
No one polices this one, but the birds are supposed to be allowed to run around large open-concept barns. Wire mesh floors, and no sunshine for these guys. They may or may not have litter in which to scratch and dust-bathe, and they may or may not be overcrowded.

Certified Organic
According to Vancouver Humane Society, Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC) and Pro-cert certified organic egg production systems are the most humane systems presently operating in Canada. Eggs certified by these two organizations are produced in higher welfare systems where hens can behave more naturally.

Rabbit River Farms has three different kinds of eggs that are available at Save-On Foods here in PG & many other grocery stores in Western Canada.

Certified Organic Eggs
Chicken range free on organic pasture and are fed certified organic feed. The feed is GMO free, all vegetarian and does not contain any animal byproducts. There are no antibiotic or synthetic chemicals used in either the feed or flock management. Hens are completely cage free both inside and outside the barn. Certified by COABC.

Free Range Eggs
Chickens range free on pasture and are fed all vegetarian feed that does not contain animal byproducts.

Free Run Eggs
Chickens are cage free inside the barn on shavings and are fed all vegetarian feed but do not range outside on pasture.

Sunworks Farm is where I purchased my eggs & much of my meat until we moved to BC. They are a wonderful family run operation with amazing products. And they're always sampling. And here's the good news: "All of our sausages, wieners, ham, bacon and specialty meats are free of gluten, egg, Dairy (no fillers), nitrates, sulphates, MSG (no chemicals or preservatives). Just healthy meat and spices. Honey and Maple Syrup are used as sweeteners (no refined sugars). And the salt is a mineralized rock salt (full of micronutrients)."

Earlier this week I headed to our health food store Ave Maria to get eggs (which is a fairly regular occurrence!) and all they had were these ones from Avalon. Organic & Free Range, just a different brand, no biggie! I have bought Avalon's organic dairy products before in the old school glass milk bottles and always been happy. When I cracked open this carton (pun intended :D) I used one egg from Avalon (Organic & Free Range) in addition to the last egg from my previous carton (Country Golden Yolks, above- Free Range, not Organic). What I found in my cookie dough surprised me:

The surprising part about this is that the egg on the right side came from the Organic, Free Range Avalon carton. The darker egg on the left isn't organic, just free range.

So that got me thinking. Does a darker yolk actually indicate anything? If so, what exactly?

The bottom line, says Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat and the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, is that "the color [of an egg yolk] doesn't reflect the nutrient value in any significant way."

While the yolk is not an indicator of nutritive value, there is mounting evidence that true pasture-raised hens produce more nutritious eggs overall. The ENC, however, states that “free-range eggs do not differ from regular eggs in terms of nutritional value or cholesterol level.”

So, it seems as though the choice is yours. Just as with genetically modified food products (GMO's), there hasn't been enough mainstream research done on the matter. Seemingly. I'll continue to buy my eggs locally, free range & organic where I can (because they really DO taste better!). I hope that you do too.


  1. Interesting article, Kristin. I've noticed that the "farm fresh" eggs that I get do taste better than the store bought eggs, however, in the grocery store, I usually buy cheapest (which I'm sure come from the most unhealthy chickens, unfortunately). It's a cost/convenience thing for me though. Interesting info about the different kinds and colours. :)

  2. I think that quite possibly there is a misleading correlation here with the picture of the eggs. Country Golden Yolks are great eggs, they are produced by a variety of small farms and they have been doing free range well before organic standards have been a popular thing. I have compared store bought eggs from them with brown eggs fresh from a small farm and the Country Golden Yolk eggs have stronger shells, and richer darker yolks. Having raised chickens I know that a strong shell is one indication that the chickens are being supplied with the nutrition to create a healthy egg. Anyway, organic isn't always better.

  3. Dark egg yolks are often a result of the chicken being fed corn,which is most often GMO in Canada. Since the organically fed chicken can't be fed GMO her egg yolks would be lighter, especially when shes no longer on green grass.