Is an Egg an Egg?

Are you confused when you go to the grocery store to buy Eggs and see so many choices? Whats the difference? Organic Eggs, Cage Free Eggs, Free Range and Pastured Raised Eggs. Food labeling can be confusing. Knowing  what the food labels means can help you know where your food comes from and how it is being produced. Here is a brief description to help you know what the food labels on the egg carton mean.

PASTURE-RAISED  (This is what I buy)

“Pasture-raised” indicates that the animal was raised on a pasture where it was able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants, rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or barn. Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane manner. Animals are able to move around freely and carry out their natural behaviors. This term is very similar to “grass-fed,” though the term “pasture-raised” indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on pasture.


“Cage-free” means that the birds are raised without cages. What this doesn’t explain is whether the birds were raised outdoors on pasture or if they were raised indoors in overcrowded conditions. If you are looking to buy eggs, poultry, or meat that was raised outdoors, look for a label that says “pastured” or “pasture-raised.”


The use of the terms “free-range” or “free- roaming” are only defined by the USDA for
egg and poultry production. The label can be used as long as the producers allow the birds access to the outdoors so that they can engage in natural behaviors. It does not necessarily mean that the products are cruelty-free or antibiotic-free, or that the animals spent the majority of their time outdoors. Claims are defined by the USDA, but are not verified by third-party inspectors.


All organic agricultural farms and products must meet the following guidelines (verified by a USDA- approved independent agency):

  • Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for three years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.
  • Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation.
  • Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management, and crop rotation practices.
  • Provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock.
  • Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
  • Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
  • Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
  • Keep records of all operations.


“Antibiotic-free” means that an animal was not given antibiotics during its lifetime. Other phrases to indicate the same approach include “no antibiotics administered” and “raised without antibiotics.”

Adapted from IIN Food Label Claims.


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