By: Heather Williams
According to a study published in Anthrozoös by University of Adelaide in Australia, consumers reasoning for purchasing free-range and cage free eggs is quite different from the reasons you would expect. While you would think consumers would deem caged, production facility eggs to be cruel and have decided to spend their money in more ethical ways. This study proved that to be only a partial truth.
The study examined food purchasing habits with shopping mall interviews and focus group responses of 73 participants of mixed gender and age. They were asked for their shopping motivations and what they considered a value with respect to egg purchases. “Taste and quality are strong motivations for purchasing and may be part of the reason why people are prepared to pay a higher price,” explains lead author Dr. Heather J. Bray of the School of Humanities and the Food Values Research Group at the University of Adelaide. She says, “More importantly, these findings suggest that consumers think about animal welfare in a much broader way than we previously thought, and in particular they believe that better welfare is connected to a better quality product.” In other words, happy chickens in better environments make much tastier eggs. Consumers interpreted a more free living condition and access to the outdoors along with better food makes the eggs taste better. It demonstrates that consumers want and are willing to pay more for these better tasting eggs. If you have ever had the opportunity to compare eggs from backyard chickens, commonly referred to as “yard eggs” with a production facility high throughput eggs you would understand there is a difference in taste. Happy chickens make tasty eggs.
What Do All of These Labels Mean?
Consumers make both logical and emotional decisions when making purchases. Unless you are a lucky person that can go in your own backyard or straight to the farm to do your shopping, you rely on labels to let you know what is in your food and how they are treated to make an informed decision. These labels are heavily regulated, so they will mean the same for every product. However, to the general consumer they don’t always mean what you would expect that they mean. Many times the labels are misleading. Some companies use this misleading wording to create an assumed value that a customer may assume is worth the higher price tag. With respect to eggs, here are some notes to help you decipher what the labels you might see on the packaging really mean so that you can make a more informed decision for your purchases, whether for animal welfare, value, or to understand why categories create better tasting eggs.
Certified Organic – A label that indicates the product gives a lot of information. It means that animals cannot be treated with antibiotics or synthetic hormones, they must have access to the outdoors, they cannot be cloned, and must eat only organically grown feed that does not contain animal byproducts. A facility cannot label their product with “Certified Organic” without being inspected and verified.
USDA Inspected – For eggs, having a USDA Inspection symbol means that they meet certain standards for quality and that it has been inspected by either USDA employees, or company employees under USDA supervision. This inspection is for quality and size, such as Grade A or Jumbo eggs, and does not refer to production methods or the company’s practices. It simply means the product is safe to eat and follows the USDA standards for sizing.
Cage-Free – “Cage Free” may sound like the birds aren’t cooped up in cages, so they have room to move around. However, Cage Free only means that the birds were not raised confined in cages. This does not mean that the birds have more space or that they have access to the outside. Cage free eggs could come from birds at large factory farms with indoor, overcrowded living spaces.
Pasture-Raised – A label of “pasture-raised” or “pastured” only means that the birds have spent some time outdoors feeding on grass or forage. Currently no standards exist for the amount of time spent on pasture to allow the label.
Grass Fed – Grass Fed means that the primary source of food comes from grass or forage after the animal is weaned. This label only refers to the food the animal is offered and does not provide any information on living conditions or antibiotic and hormone use.
No Antibiotics – A label that says “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics administrated” means that the animal has never been given antibiotics. This label does not provide any information on living conditions.
No Hormones – A label of “raised without hormones,” “no synthetic hormones,” or “no hormones administered” means that the animal did not receive synthetic hormones. The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in pork or poultry. Often these labels are meant to mislead shoppers into believing there is more value to the product. Now the USDA requires companies to include the following disclaimer on packaging: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry/pork.”
Free-Range – Free-Range is a misleading label. The use to this label is only regulated for poultry. This label only indicates the chicken has some access each day to the outdoors but for an unspecified time. This doe not mean the chicken actually went outdoors to roam freely.
Certainly as living conditions improve, the birds are able to produce eggs more closely to what you would receive from backyard poultry. Birds that have access to sunshine and room to move around produce a much tastier egg than those cooped up in a small dark space without room to move. Birds who eat better quality food and have access to pasture and forage and can eat bugs produce a much tastier egg than those who are fed a basic diet to keep them alive. Many consumers have made the decision to pay a little more for a better quality product, thus promoting better animal welfare for the egg production chicken industry.