"From the beginning our position was that the original organic regulatory language actually means something," said [Mark A.] Kastel [codirector for The Cornucopia Institute's and senior farm policy analyst].
"Just because it didn't prescribe exactly how to comply with the requirement for 'access to the outdoors for all organic livestock' or 'access to pasture for ruminants' doesn't mean farm operators could ignore the requirement."
…"As in organic dairying, we discovered similar flagrant violations of the law in the organic egg business," lamented Kastel. "Some of the largest operators even have a note from their veterinarian, or some state official, saying 'we recommend that you not let your birds outside to protect their health.' And some accommodating, corporate-friendly organic certifiers have signed-off on this," Kastel said."
A note from the veterinarian prescribing the hens to be kept indoors for their own well-being?
Family-Scale Organic Egg Producers Get Top Scores
The good news here is that you can still depend on your small, local farmer to produce some of the best food on earth.
The report concludes that the vast majority of family-scale producers do comply with, or exceed, organic regulations.
In fact, "[a]n important subset of organic farmers are even going far beyond the minimum requirements in the organic standards: not just providing access to the outdoors but rotating birds on high-quality pasture," Cornucopia reports.
The main problem is that they can't compete against cheaper mass-produced organic eggs. Because although factory farmed organic eggs typically do not fulfill the expectation of organic consumers, most consumers simply do not realize that they're being short-changed, because both eggs bear the identical organic label…
For more information, and to locate a high-rating organic egg producer in your area, please see The Cornucopia Institute's report, Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture.
Organic Eggs are Healthier, More Nutritious Eggs
Why should you care about whether or not your eggs are truly organic AND free-range?
Because organic, free-range hens are healthier, live longer, and produce eggs with superior flavor and nutritional content than their factory-raised counterparts. Organic eggs also tend to be more expensive, so why shouldn't you get everything you pay for? A hen that has been in a crowded pen simply will not produce as healthful an egg as a hen that has been pastured, even if she's fed an all organic diet…
Quite simply, the healthier the hen, the healthier her eggs, and outdoor access is a major part of optimal health for food producing animals.
An egg-testing project performed by Mother Earth News in 2007 found there were significant differences in nutrition between factory-farmed and organically raised eggs.
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
These dramatically differing nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free-range pastured hens, vs. commercially farmed hens.
The fact that the USDA and other organizations (which are often funded or influenced by industry) refuse to acknowledge that there is a direct link between the diet of the bird and the nutritional value of their eggs, is a clear indicator that there are strong financial incentives at work – not nutritional science.
The Best and the Worst of Eggs
If at all possible, I would encourage you to avoid buying all store bought eggs unless you have no other choices. Exceptions would be small health food stores that carry locally farmed eggs.
Ideally it would be best to locate a local famer where the chickens are fed well and raised in humane conditions and allowed to eat insects. I have never seen store bought eggs that compares to the color of the yolk in these eggs. Typically they are deep orange, where most of the store bought eggs are light yellow.
In addition to being true free-range, these types of eggs are also less likely to have been treated with damaging chlorine baths.
If you have to purchase your eggs from a commercial grocery store, I would advise selecting a high-rated brand from The Cornucopia Institute's report, to ensure you're actually getting high-quality organic eggs.
But finding a local egg producer may not be as hard as you think. In my experience, this is one of the easiest foods to find from local farmers.
To locate a free-range pasture farm near you, try:
Another option is to raise your own. Mother Earth News has a great article on how to do it.
As for the worst eggs out there, omega-3 fortified eggs take top billing and should be avoided. Typically, the animals producing these eggs are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. Also, omega-3 eggs do not last anywhere near as long as non-omega-3 eggs.
Organic, Free-Range Eggs Also Do Not Need Refrigeration and are FAR Less Likely to be Contaminated with Salmonella
It is actually wise to NOT refrigerate your eggs. If you have ever been to Europe or South America, you will know that the practice of non-refrigeration is common in those countries.
In the U.S., refrigeration of eggs became the cultural norm when mass production caused eggs to travel long distances and sit in storage for weeks to months before arriving at your superstore. The general lack of cleanliness of factory farms has increased the likelihood that your eggs have come into contact with pathogens, amplifying the need for disinfection and refrigeration.
But if your eggs are very fresh and organically-raised, you typically do not have to refrigerate them.
As for the risk of contracting salmonella, chickens raised in unsanitary factory farm conditions are far more likely to be contaminated, and lay contaminated eggs.
In fact, one study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks.