Wendy Johnson and Johnny Rafkin own Jóia Food Farm near Charles City in northeast Iowa,…
Laying hens love to run, dust bathe, peck, scratch and flap their wings. Those are their instinctive behaviors—part of what it means to act like a chicken. When raised in pasture-based systems outdoors on rolling hills, pastures, forests, fields and range, they get to do these things regularly as they roam about and forage their natural and varied diet of grubs, seeds, insects, and green plants. This type of management can provide the highest welfare, making for happy hens living in a natural environment, while also producing eggs that are healthier than their conventionally produced counterparts. Think healthy pastures = healthy birds = healthy eggs.
In 2007, Mother Earth News tested nutritional content of eggs from 14 flocks of pasture-raised birds across the country. This built on previous research on the benefits of pasture-raised eggs, also highlighted in the article. Their study concluded that compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
In conventional egg production, even eggs carrying positive sounding labels like “cage free,” typically come from intensive, industrial systems where thousands of hens are confined indoors in barns for their entire lives. Inevitably, these systems result in many welfare challenges including a higher risk of disease and higher mortality rates for the birds, as well as risks to the environment and public health. They also produce an egg that is not as nutritionally dense as eggs produced by birds on pasture.
Genuinely pasture-raised eggs are worth seeking out, but there is no standard definition of “pasture-raised” (check out our blog post), and the perceived value of the pasture-raised claim makes it ripe for greenwashing by food manufacturers. That means you’ll see it regularly, so you have to do some extra work to be sure the product label is truthful. If you want to know that the birds were raised outdoors on pasture, then look for Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW–the only food label that ensures high-welfare, pasture- and range-based management. You’ll know that the eggs are better for animals, the planet—and you! Use our directory to find your nearest Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW egg supplier.