If you’ve gone to the grocery store lately for poultry or eggs, chances are you are overwhelmed by all the different labels you see: ‘Organic,’ ‘Free Range,’ ‘Farm Fresh,’ ‘Natural,’ ‘Humane,’- the list goes on and on most people don’t know the difference between any of those labels! Well, the majority of those labels come from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) which creates the language used to label agricultural food products. And even though that sounds pretty official, a lot of those labels don’t mean much at all. So, here’s a quick rundown of what all these labels means, or what you should look for, what’s less important, and what’s meaningless when it come to poultry and egg labels.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
These are the things you want to see on your poultry label or egg carton. They speak to humane treatment as well as taste, nutrition, and overall quality.
*Pastured/Pastured Raised- This is number one on the list, because it most closely represents what eggs and poultry are naturally supposed to be. This label means animals are not confined, are raised outdoors, can eat wild plants and insects, and have space to perform all of their natural species behaviors. In addition, studies have shown that pastured eggs have higher level of omega 3s, and other vitamins as well as lower cholesterol. As a side note, Pastured is also usually more expensive.
*Certified Organic- This is second on list. It basically means there has been no antibiotic usage, the animals have been feed organic, vegetarian feed, and they have been kept cage-free in a large warehouse with outdoor access. The reason this is second on the list is because they vegetarian diet isn’t really considered ‘natural’ since chickens naturally eat bugs and insects. In addition, there living environment is not quite as cushy as those pastured raised chickens who have been raised outdoors.
*No Antibiotics Administered/Raised without Antibiotics- This is basically exactly what it sounds like- from birth to harvest, no antibiotics have been administered to the poultry. If you can’t get Pastured, or Certified Organic, this would be the next best thing to shoot for.
WHAT’S LESS IMPORTANT
These are things that sounds pretty good but don’t have a lot of impact on the way poultry is raised or the taste or healthy value.
*Cage Free- Basically this means that the chickens are able to room freely in a warehouse or enclosed space. This doesn’t mean a whole lot since cages are rarely used with chicken farms and it doesn’t speak to how crowded those living environments are.
*Free Range- This is very similar to cage free but it includes access to outdoor space during their production cycle. “Access” is the key word here. That can mean a very small outdoor area at the far end of the warehouse that a chicken doesn’t even know exists. So free range doesn’t guarantee any actual time outdoors and still doesn’t address how crammed the living quarters may be.
*Certified Humane- This label is about the treatment of the birds, ensuring that they are able to perform their natural species behaviors, such as perching, nesting, and preening. Again, with this label, birds are kept uncaged indoors, but there are some requirements for number of perches and nesting boxes available and requirements for density.
*Vegetarian Fed- This label is meant to address the fact that some poultry feed uses processed meat and poultry by-products. So, basically this label is a way to brag about not using that stuff. Again, just like with the Certified Organic label, the problem here is that poultry are natural carnivores and are being restricted of insects, which also means no access to the outdoors.
These are labels that are basically just marketing gimmicks- they could pretty much exist on all poultry and egg products!
*No Hormones- Did you know it is actually illegal to administer hormones to poultry and has been since 1959? That is why this label is meaningless- all poultry has no hormones!
* Farm Raised- Even if they are factory farms, all commercial chickens are raised on farms. This is another label that can be on all poultry- making it meaningless.
* Antibiotic Free- This label means that there has been no antibiotic residue left in the meat after it’s been packaged. This is the case for all poultry. It says nothing about whether the poultry was administered antibiotics during its lifetime. Don’t confuse this with the “No Antibiotics Administered” label- that one actually has meaning.
*Natural- This is a label to references whether or not any artificial ingredients are included in the package of your poultry or eggs. It does not address any farming practices, antibiotic usage, or animal welfare. It just means there’s nothing added in production.