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Eggs: Organic, Free Range, Free Run, Omega 3, White or Brown? Understanding the jargon…

We may have concluded from my previous post regarding organic vs. conventional, that there isn’t necessarily much of a difference in the milk that we purchase in Canada. Can the same be said about eggs? In this case, it isn’t necessarily only an issue of whether to choose organic; another important component comes into play to a much greater extent, namely nutrition.

As previously discussed, conventionally raised chickens (and cows) are fed grains that contain a GMO component of corn or soy. The conventionally grown grains also have pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer residues that are subsequently stored as toxins in the fat of the chicken. Certified Organic farmers feed their livestock certified organic food that does not contain these toxins. Nonetheless, Certified Organic doesn’t necessarily mean that the animals are given ample room for exercise or access to the outdoors. This is where the terminology of Free Run vs. Free Range should be considered and understood – and yes, there is a notable difference in these terms.

On conventional farms, a number of chickens are kept in a small cage, and there are thousands of these cages in a barn. In this case, animal welfare should also be acknowledged. Furthermore, these chickens do not get the necessary exercise that help maintain proper health. In such confined quarters, sickness and disease is inevitable and antibiotics and other drugs are used regularly to fight infection and mitigate its proliferation.

Free Run eggs are similar to conventional eggs, but the chickens are not kept in cages. However, the barn still contains thousands of birds that do not have access to the outdoors. On the other hand, Free Range chickens do have regular access to the outdoors throughout most of the year, and no antibiotics or production hormones are administered to the birds. In addition, the Free Range eggs contain substantially more vitamin D than their counterparts. However, since Free Range claims are not monitored by third parties, fraudulent labeling is always a possibility, and the terms Free Run and Free Range are often used interchangeably. Only organic Free Range labels are verified and substantiated. As such, organic chicken farmers must adhere to strict guidelines that do not apply to conventional Free Range farmers.

Another label that we often hear about is Omega 3 Eggs. These eggs come from chickens that have flax seed added to their feed, and as such are enriched with Omega 3 fatty acids. Not only does this enhance taste, but it also increases the Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Beta Carotene content of the eggs. In addition, these eggs contain less cholesterol and saturated fat. Unfortunately Omega 3 eggs are not regulated and therefore the levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in the feed can substantially vary. However, it can be said that eggs are not a predominantly good source of omega 3 fatty acids in any case. Furthermore, conventional farmers producing these specialty eggs still keep their hens in cages.

Finally is there a difference between brown and white eggs? The eggshell color only depends on the breed of hen that laid the egg and has nothing to do with quality, nutrition, or taste.

If you decide to purchase organic eggs, make sure that they are Certified Organic*. Certified Organic guarantees the claims made on labels are verified and true. Although organic standards are voluntary in Canada, Quebec is currently the only province that has a mandatory system of accreditation.

*Two Organic Certifying bodies in Canada are: QAI (Quality Assurance International) and OCPP/Pro-Cert Canada Inc.

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