Egg Carton Labels: Here’s What All Those Terms Really Mean

The egg cabinets on the grocery store could be difficult to navigate, since you need to select between labels and claims like “free-range,” “cage-free” and “pasture-raised” (oh my). After which contemplating natural designations and varied welfare certifications could be overwhelming, leaving you to simply go along with the most affordable choice.

Whereas the demand for cage-free eggs is on the rise, typical (learn: caged) hens nonetheless provide the overwhelming majority of eggs within the U.S., with 81.6% (or 275.four million laying hens) housed in typical cage environments as of March 2019.

That statistic could come as a shock, because it’s uncommon {that a} producer will proudly proclaim that their eggs come from caged chickens. Phrases like “farm contemporary,” “pure” or “vegetarian” could also be used to cover caged eggs in plain sight, as they don’t have anything to do with how the hens are raised. (You may choose up some “vegetarian” eggs from the grocery store with out realizing to procure a carton of caged eggs.)

Which eggs you can purchase will depend on what you prioritize in your meals sources — however the consultants HuffPost consulted all agreed that so far as animal welfare is worried, caged is a no-go.

To Josh Balk, vice chairman of farm animal safety on the Humane Society of the US, the variations between cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised and natural are minute in comparison with the huge distinction in hens’ high quality of life between any of those choices and caged. He stated that if you happen to don’t see any of these 4 labels on a carton, you’re caged eggs, “one of many cruelest merchandise ever provided in our meals system.”

For Jim Hauskey, director of promoting at Completely happy Egg Co., free-range is the bottom commonplace for a way hens must be handled.

That will help you make higher selections about shopping for eggs and extra confidently decode their cartons, we’ve outlined widespread phrases you could encounter under.

Caged chickens at a conventional egg farm in the United States. Josh Balk of the Humane Society said eggs produced by caged hens are among "the cruelest products ever offered in our food system.”

Caged chickens at a standard egg farm in the US. Josh Balk of the Humane Society stated eggs produced by caged hens are amongst “the cruelest merchandise ever provided in our meals system.”


Caged eggs come from hens that spend their egg-laying lives in a cage, nearly all of that are so small that the hens can’t unfold their wings. The United Egg Producers’ tips for cage manufacturing methods checklist a minimal of 67 sq. inches per hen, which is smaller than an ordinary 8.5 inch by 11 inch sheet of paper.

“They’re unable to do very primary behaviors,” Balk advised HuffPost. “They will’t unfold their wings, stand on strong floor, perch, scratch, mud bathe, or lay eggs in a nesting space. These are crucial behaviors that chickens have to have the ability to have interaction in so as to have some sort of respectable life and so they can’t have interaction in any of them inside one among these cages.”

Frank Hilliker holds one of his 8,000 chickens in a cage-free barn at Hilliker's Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeview, California.

Frank Hilliker holds one among his 8,000 chickens in a cage-free barn at Hilliker’s Ranch Contemporary Eggs in Lakeview, California.


Because the label suggests, cage-free eggs come from hens that don’t reside their lives confined to cages. In line with Division of Agriculture tips, eggs labeled cage-free “should be produced by hens housed in a constructing, room or enclosed space that permits for limitless entry to meals, water and offers the liberty to roam throughout the space throughout the laying cycle.”

It’s vital to notice that this definition doesn’t specify how a lot area every hen has or whether or not they ever see the outside. Cage-free is a broad time period that encompasses indoor housing methods; methods that supply entry to the outside; and methods which can be outdoor-centric. American Humane Licensed welfare requirements stipulate that “all hens should have ample freedom of motion to have the ability to stand usually, flip round and stretch their wings with out problem. They should have ample area to have the ability to perch or sit quietly with out repeated disturbance.” Moreover, these hens should have entry to a well-maintained litter or scratch space the place they’ll mud bathe, and nest containers with curtains or dividers for privateness.

The hens at Feather Brook Farm in Massachusetts have continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle.

The hens at Feather Brook Farm in Massachusetts have steady entry to the outside throughout their laying cycle.


Free-range eggs come from hens which have “steady entry to the outside throughout their laying cycle,” in line with the USDA, which additional stipulates that “the out of doors space could also be fenced and/or coated with netting-like materials.” This broad definition encompasses all the pieces from simply a number of small doorways resulting in an unappealing screened-in porch to barns with a number of giant openings and several other acres for hens to forage, perch and exhibit different typical hen behaviors.

Like cage-free, extra welfare certifications can supply enhanced insights on what free-range truly means for the lifetime of egg-laying hens. Completely happy Egg Co., for instance, is licensed by American Humane, a distinction meaning extra than simply extra area for hens to roam (1 acre of outside area for each 2,000 hens; 21.Eight sq. ft per chicken).

“There’s 200 or extra different requirements that our farms must observe to ensure the hens are handled proper,” stated Hauskey from Completely happy Egg Co. “All over the place from the air high quality to water high quality and the quantity of water, the area and variety of doorways to the feed high quality and supply.”


Pasture-raised, which is a comparatively new time period used to explain eggs, isn’t explicitly outlined by the USDA. If you happen to see pasture-raised on an egg carton, it’s vital to search for extra certifications from unbiased businesses like Licensed Humane and American Humane, which have outlined particular definitions for the time period.

Licensed Humane pasture-raised eggs require 2.5 acres for each 1,000 birds (108 sq. ft per chicken). In line with its requirements, “The hens should be outside year-round, with cell or fastened housing the place the hens can go inside at evening to guard themselves from predators, or for as much as two weeks out of the yr due solely to very inclement climate.”


As a way to be thought-about natural by the USDA, a meals merchandise should meet sure requirements. These embrace year-round entry to the outside (with non permanent confinement permitted for environmental or well being causes) and 100% natural feed. In different phrases, natural eggs come from free-range hens which can be fed an natural weight-reduction plan free from artificial pesticides.


This time period is complicated as a result of chickens are omnivores by nature. Vegetarian signifies the feed given to the chickens didn’t include any meat or animal byproducts. At farms the place chickens are allowed to roam the outside, hens have the chance to complement their feed by foraging for worms and bugs. The label “vegetarian feed” can seem on product packaging for these hens’ eggs on this occasion, so long as the feed they’re given is meat-free.

Concerning the free-range eggs bought by Completely happy Egg Co. (the place hens are fed an all-natural, vegetarian feed and allowed to forage throughout the day), Hauskey stated, “Individuals can be ok with how the hens are handled, and figuring out that a few of their weight-reduction plan comes from the vary provides just a little little bit of authenticity and naturalness to what comes out ultimately, which is a good looking egg.”

Omega-Three enriched

Like vegetarian, “omega-Three enriched” is a label that doesn’t relate to hen welfare. It sometimes means some flax seed was combined into their feed, resulting in greater omega-Three fatty acid ranges within the ensuing egg.

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