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Confusing Egg Carton Labels Ruffling Your Feathers?


Cage-Free, Omega-3, Free-Range, College-Educated… Wait, whaaat?

We certainly find all the different labels on egg cartons confusing, wondering which eggs are the best for our health and the health of the chickens laying them, and imagine some of you do too. Especially when these labels all sound so great but may in fact be misleading.

Here’s the truth about each label, and our recommendations for obtaining the best incredible, edible eggs possible.

1. Cage-Free

No cages, but generally no access to the outdoors either. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation permitted. Not regulated.

2. Free-Rangecage-free

Uncaged inside barns, with some degree of access to the outdoors. No restrictions of feed or quality of outdoor access. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation permitted. Not regulated.

3. Pasture-Raised

Outdoors during the day, indoors at night. No restrictions of feed or quality of outdoor access. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation permitted. Not regulated.

4. USDA Organic

Uncaged inside a barn with required outdoor access. Fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation permitted. Regulated.

5. Omega-3 Enriched

You are better off getting your omega-3’s by eating lots of fish, nuts and seeds. This label has no relevance to animal welfare. Nor do Vegetarian-fed, Natural, or Farm Fresh.

6. Certified Humane

Has 3 levels of certification (1) cage-free, (2) free-range and (3) pasture-raised. Beak cutting is permitted. This is a third-party certification.

7. Animal Welfare Approved

Highest animal welfare standards, but only certify flocks of fewer than 500 birds. 1.8 feet of space per bird indoors and continuous access to 4 feet of space per bird outdoors. Forced molting through starvation and beak cutting are prohibited, as is feed containing meat or animal byproducts. This is a third-party certification.

There’s also American Humane Certified, Food Alliance Certified and United Egg Producers Certified. But these third-party certifications all permit beak cutting.

8. CA SEFS Compliant

New in the State of CA, hens have enough room to lie, stand, turn around and spread wings without touching another hen. Violations are misdemeanors.

CA SEFS and USDA Organic are the only two labels with legal definitions that are regulated and inspected. None of the other labels are defined in legal terms, which means you may not be getting what you’re paying extra for. Learn more about each label on the Humane Society‘s website.

Our Recommendations

(1) If you HAVE to buy eggs from the supermarket, look for the USDA Organic label.

(2) If you have access to local eggs from a farm where you know their practices, this is preferable.

(3) Start urban farming one of favorite creative crops! If you have enough space in your yard to house an urban chicken coop (and it’s legal to keep chickens where you live), keeping your own chickens is ideal!


To learn more about chicken-keeping in general, or if you are seriously considering keeping your own chickens, check out Chicken-Keeping 101 with Khrysti Smyth!

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