Deceiptful Poultry & Egg Labels

“Free range”, “grain finished”, “organic”, “cage free”, “lovingly neutered”, “emotionally sensitive packaging”, “access to gender-neutral restrooms” and the goes-on. (Confession: I might have used my poetic license on a few of these.) Unless you’ve spent the time to heavily research the subject and bookmark the websites on your smartphone, today’s food labeling system is more destructive than informative.

Why does it matter? If you’re self-health conscious and care about how your food was treated before it hit your plate you might feel betrayed at how big-ag companies are pulling the wool over your eyes. Contrary to common sense, that picture of a smiling chicken on your carton doesn’t require the eggs therein be plucked from a happy nest. Proof: chickens can’t smile.

(picture credit: One Green Planet – “Think You Know ‘Free Range’ and ‘Cage Free’ Chicken? Think Again”)

What’s a conscientious buyer to do? I’ll cover the subject in two  posts. Part 1 is about the different labels and specifics of which to be aware. Part 2 will delve into a discussion of the significance and detriment of a labeling system and our responsibilities both as seller and buyer.

Many trustworthy authors with much better writing styles than I have extensively and responsibly covered this subject so I’ll just let the dead horse be. I’ve provided my research favorites below. Additionally, I’ve included a section boiling-down the most critical label discrepancies to heed.

Eggs – How was Momma Hen Treated?


NPR – Farm Fresh? Natural? Eggs Not Always What They’re Cracked Up To Be

Food Renegade – Healthy Eggs: What to Buy?

Eating Well – How to Buy Eggs: What Do Organic, Cage-Free and Free-Range Labels Mean?

(picture credit: Naturally Healthy Concepts - (picture credit: Naturally Healthy Concepts – “Cage-Free, Free-Range, Pasture-Raised, Organic: What are You Really Buying When you Buy Eggs?”)

Beef – It’s What’s For (Their) Dinner

Agrillicious – What is Grass Fed Beef, Grain Finished Beef, Pasture Finished?

Coconuts and Kettlebells – The Grass-Fed Difference: Why You Are What They Eat

Built Lean – Is Grass-Fed-Beef Worth The Extra Money?

(picture credit: Coconuts and Kettlebells - (picture credit: Coconuts and Kettlebells – “The Grass-Fed Difference: Why You Are What They Eat”)

Breaking it Down – The Critical Ones. Be Wary.

Pasture Raised
At the moment this is the highest standard for eggs. Guaranteed natural foraging in addition to the latest USDA organic standards.

Grass Fed, Grass Finished
The best for your beef. This promises an entire life of grazing on grass pastures.

Vegetarian Fed
Chickens are omnivorous by nature. I’m all for those hippies 30 miles east to be able to choose a meatless life of flavor destitution, but imagine if you were forced to eat solely from one extreme of the food spectrum.

Free Range and Cage Free
‘Free Range’ is as guilty as ‘Cage Free’. The difference in the chicken’s health between the two has been shown to be negligible. Both are kept in over-crowded buildings on other-than-grass floors fed by humans or machine.

Grass Fed
With origins derived from the best intentions for cattle this label has been warped by ranchers looking for a shortcut. For the moment ‘Grass Fed’ still means that most of the bovine’s life is spent foraging on grass. However(!) it no longer restricts the diet to be completely free from grain as coveted and assumed by those with strict and life-dependent dietary restrictions. Ridiculously, a new category has necessarily emerged: ‘Grass FINISHED’. It’s easier to get the animal up to selling weight and marbling if given calorie-heavy grain during the last few months of it’s life (i.e. – ‘GRAIN Finished’).

Hah! Don’t get me started. I’ll reserve a full future post for this big-business, wolf-in-sheep-clothing.


If all of this information is a bit too much to process, just ask the farmer from whom you buy your food. They’ll be more than happy to explain their animal care ideology and product standards. If you’re shopping at a grocery store, good luck with that.

Egg Washing

“The USDA requires producers to wash eggs with warm water at least 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the eggs and at a minimum of 90°F. A detergent that won’t impart any foreign odors to the eggs must also be used. After washing, the eggs must be rinsed with a warm water spray containing a chemical sanitizer to remove any remaining bacteria.  They are then dried to remove excess moisture.

This last step is crucial because bacteria cannot penetrate a thoroughly dry egg shell. Add a thin layer of moisture, however, and not only is there a medium that promotes bacterial growth, but the water also provides an excellent vehicle for pathogens such as salmonella and other critters to pass through via the tens of thousands of pores on the surface of the egg shell.”

“Should you wash eggs?

It’s not necessary or recommended for consumers to wash eggs and may actually increase the risk of contamination because the wash water can be “sucked” into the egg through the pores in the shell When the chicken lays the egg, a protective coating is put on the outside by the hen. Government regulations require that USDA-graded eggs be carefully washed and sanitized using only compounds meeting FDA regulations for processing foods.”