Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Eggs-traordinary Dilemma

Today I wasted 45 minutes of my life trying to buy eggs.  I am 25 years old and undoubtedly have purchased plenty of eggs.  Yet, without fail, I go through the same dilemma every single time I stand in front of the endless cartons.  Organic? Cage-free?  Free-range? Certified Humane? Conventional?

Unfortunately, most people do not have the dilemma that I do, because they are unaware of the issues surrounding eggs and probably have not even noticed the plethora of labels, certifications and proclamations stickered all over the cartons. This NY Times article, published last week, illuminates the debate on inhumane farming of animals and focuses on the caging and inhumane treatment of hens.

Marion Nestle’s book What to Eat has long been an authority on how I buy food.   She serves as my guide on this issue as she reviews the major egg certifications and nutritional content of eggs.   Here is the breakdown:

USDA Certified Organic:  Hens must be fed organic feed, allowed to go outside and have access to sunlight. Farms undergo inspection to ensure regulation is being followed.  

Certified Humane/Cage-Free/Free-Range: These can be nestled into the same category.  Hens must be treated using humane farming conditions, with access to sunlight and outside roaming space.  The regulation on feed is not as strict as organic.  

United Egg Producers Certified: This indicates that the eggs are produced in a commercially “kind” way.   Basically meaning, hens raised under this certification are only ensured easy access to food and water, most likely from their cages

Conventional: Hens are caged and eggs produced are not organic. It has also been suggested by various sources that these conditions are more likely to breed disease. Conventional production prides itself on efficiency to keep costs low.  

Nutritional Content: The nutritional content of eggs does not vary depending on certification.  The nutritional content of eggs can be upped if the feed is fortified (ie. omega-3 or extra vitamins) but in my opinion you're better off getting the nutrients from another food source and should not buy eggs based on these claims

When you are buying food, it is important to remember that an entire industry backs whatever product you are buying- eggs, dairy, chicken, meat, etc.  And industry supports profit, not always what is best for the consumer.  However, in the same light, industry responds to demand.  And if people are demanding humane treatment of animals and organic production of food (re: the NY Times article), then that is the way the industry will go. Right now, an overwhelming 98% of people purchase conventional eggs. 

So, the next time you go to buy eggs or anything for that matter, take a minute to think before you fly on to the next thing on your list.  Every time you purchase a food product- you are voting.  You vote for how you think animals should be treated; for how famers should be paid; for how food should be produced; for what you want to put in your body to fuel your health. Regardless of your final decision, it’s worth the second thought.

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